Pay cuts are short-termism, says expert

Workers are being pressured into taking pay cuts. It’s a false economy, according to an industrial relations expert. It’s blackmail, according to the unions. Stephen Naysmith reports.

British Airways cabin staff are to be asked to accept a

40 per cent pay cut according to a document leaked last week. In the Scottish Borders this week. home help workers agreed to be downgraded. with a corresponding decrease in pay and travel expenses.

Meanwhile at Liverpool docks. demonstrations over the sacking of 239 dockers a year ago are accompanied by claims that they have been replaced with workers paid just £2.30 an hour.

It all adds up to a climate of anxiety in which workers are almost powerless to protect their position. let alone upset the government by pushing for excessive pay increases.

Home helps in the Borders have accepted a reduction in pay that will amount to 3 per cent by April next year. lfthey didn‘t agree. the council warned. the service would be put out to tender.

The powerlessness of unions in the face of such threats was emphasised when The List spoke to Gerry Skelton. district secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) in the Borders. On Monday. he was bullish: ‘If there have to be reductions they should be borne by all. not just the lowest paid. most vulnerable staff.‘ he said. ‘Home carers feel a gun has been put to their heads.‘

By Tuesday lunchtime. the deal had been signed. with the agreement of the unions. ‘We have been able to come to an agreement.‘ a spokesman for Scottish Borders Council confirmed. ‘This will mean reducing hourly rates of pay for home care workers.‘

The council claims it has been forced into the cuts. and admitted workers were between a rock and a hard place. ‘The council is also between a rock and a hard place.‘ said the spokesman. ‘We needed to make cuts of£l.8 tnillion. the blame for it lies firmly at central govemment‘s door.‘

That is not the case with British Airways. however. Workers in Glasgow. Manchester and Birmingham

will be among those asde to take a pay cut of up to 40 per cent. according to a plan leaked to Labour MP Brian Wilson.

These ‘efficiencies‘ are forced by the need to cut costs. and maintain a competitiveness. according to the airline. Yet British Airways pre-tax profits rose from £327m last year to £585m this year. Again. there is a threat. l f the cuts are not accepted. workers could find BA will ‘purchase these services elsewhere. or decide to close. sell or franchise.‘

A spokesperson for BA insisted the 40 per cent figure was speculation. ‘We have not ruled out pay cuts. but no specific figures have been determined. We need to retain profit levels so we can finance investment in new aircraft.‘ she said. ‘We are not ruling out the possibility that we may have to contract out.‘ If staff felt they were being held to ransom by the threat of contracting out. they would have their say during consultation. she added.

Professor Brian Towers of the Department of Industrial Relations at Strathclyde University. says cutting pay or pushing jobs out into the private sector are deeply flawed strategies. and examples of British short-termism‘.

‘Down-sizing and outsourcing. to use American terms. are counterproductive. They affect morale. and it is hard for companies to generate commitment when people are afraid they may lose theirjobs or suffer a

pay cut. In the long term. people stop buying goods. or taking up credit options. so the economy stagnates.‘

All this has an impact on the ‘feel-good factor‘. Towers points out. He doesn’t accept arguments about the need for businesses to compete internationally. and believes pay-cuts and staff cuts are more a fashion than a necessity. ‘British Airways is doing very well, it is very profitable. Many other companies are not involved in international trade. If you cut your labour force 30 years ago. the stock value of your company fell. It was seen as failure. Today the stock value rises.‘

Towers believes this issue will gain greater and greater prominence as the millennium approaches. He also points to the US. where unrest at ‘outsourcing‘ has led to disputes in the auto industry.

However. few other unions in America are as strong as those in the motor industry. Unions here can offer little resistance either. Once the threat of contracting out is raised they tend to buckle.

One Scottish low pay worker pointed out why. ‘The unions have a dodgy record on this one. When services are contracted out. they sometimes lose union recognition. It isn‘t unknown for a union to negotiate a downgraded settlement in order to keep their membership levels up.‘ he said.

And finally . . . Is this a counciljunket which I see before me?

Glasgow and Edinburgh councillors have been in hot water over trips abroad while on local govemment business. Eric Milligan. Edinburgh‘s Lord Provost. will face questions

group‘s ditty linen in public.

Still on council business. Aberdeen councillors will be forced to act as arbiters of taste and decency if a planned screening ofthe low-budget version of Macbeth is to go ahead in the Granite City. Editing ofthe film.

of weeks of bonking bishops. the tabloids have been handed a dream double involving schoolgirls in skimpy skirts. Over lOO pupils stormed out of classes after teachers ruled that some girls were, as the Daily Record put it. ‘flashing too

about a recent trip to Hong Kong where he met the colony‘s governor Chris Patten. Milligan claims he picked up the cost of the airfare himself.

Not so Glasgow Provost Pat Lally. whose ‘foreign’ jaunt consisted of a trip to Edinburgh with a bunch of council pals to watch the Tattoo and take the traditional weejie salute. The exertion of this formal duty naturally necessitated the party repairing to a pukka hotel for refreshments.

Labour leader Robert Gould publicly criticised the expenses-paid trip at a time when the local authority is making massive budget cuts. However. Gould was also effectively rebuked for airing the ruling Labour

Helen Baxendale: delayed Macbeth

which stars Jason Connery and Helen Baxendale. is going down to the wire. and the British Board of Film Classification has said that it may not be able to give the film a certificate in time.

Now it‘s down to the Aberdeen councillors to decide ifthe film is fit to be shown to the public. ‘We trust the councillors will not find Duncan’s murder so gruesome they insist it be cut out.‘ said George Mitchell of Grampian TV which is backing the production. If so. they could always follow Lady Macbeth‘s lead and wash their hands of the movie.

Already taking a firm moral stance are teachers at Kirkland High School in Methil. Fife. After ajoyous couple

much fiesh‘. One teacher allegedly said he found such displays ‘distracting‘ while the school’s rector conceded that there had been ‘an issue over inappropriate dress code‘.

In the same paper. star columnist Joan Bumie railed against ‘Scotland’s school Lolitas’. saying: ‘What these kids are about is . . . trying to bring out a hot blush. if not flush. in anything in trousers.‘

One pupil from the other side of the generation gap responded: ‘lt's not like we‘re indecently dressed the tops cover most of our stomach . . .‘ Sounds like Kirkland High could be the perfect location for a new teen drama how about Met/ti101592? (Eddie Gibb)

The List 4- l7 Oct I996 5