JANET STREET-PORTER: If Boris can’t even get his own civil servants back to the office what chance has he of getting any of us back to work, let alone with a pay rise?
Boris claims that there’s no crisis.
Tell that to the people queuing at 10pm to buy the petrol to go to work next day. Or the farmer ploughing up his cabbages because there’s no one to pick them. Pigs culled because butchers are rarer than dentists.
This week, the Prime Minister talked down food and fuel shortages and blithely claimed there’s ‘no shortage’ of eager young people who are thinking of becoming lorry drivers. No wonder the BBC’s Nick Robinson finally blew his top, barking ‘Prime Minister stop talking!’
If the current driver shortage (estimated at 100,000) continues, never mind saving Christmas, our supermarket shelves will be empty well before it’s time for the Advent calendars.
There are hundreds of thousands of jobs available, but nobody wants them. They’re poorly paid, at anti-social times, or involve working outside in the British weather.
This week, the Prime Minister (pictured with his wife Carrie Johnson) talked down food and fuel shortages and blithely claimed there’s ‘no shortage’ of eager young people who are thinking of becoming lorry drivers
A huge section of the workforce has become choosy, they no longer want to work for peanuts in poor conditions if there’s a cushy office job on offer or, better still, one they can do on a laptop from comfort of their own front room.
Covid has turned us into a nation of semi-productive home-bodies – reluctant to swap the last eighteen months of leisure wear and Zoom for a wet and windy commute. Going anywhere to work is unappealling when petrol is expensive and major roads are blocked by demonstrators. Public transport involves mixing with the unvaccinated, the non mask-wearers.
Business leaders are desperate for employees to return, They say that without face-to-face meetings creativity is stifled and output is dipping. Young people are particularly badly hit, how can their careers progress if they haven’t got a chance to engage face-to-face and learn from others? Who can mentor them and teach social skills?
To be fair, Boris is concerned that our prolonged love affair with WFH is having a detrimental effect on young people. However, he has not got a plan to galvanise workers out of their slippers.
His sweet-talking to woo us back has been hesitant, some might say glacial. At the start of summer, Boris opted for a cautious, ‘gradual’ return, fearing a third Covid peak. In September, when it didn’t materialise, the schools returned and the holiday season ended, he unveiled Plan A- not an order, but a nudge- could we PLEASE go back to work.
The result has been a conspicuous failure. Almost half of the country- and most of the civil servants – are resolutely refusing to take off their track bottoms and get back to the daily grind.
Months ago, Whitehall bosses issued new guidelines asking for a ‘gradual’ return – a message which has been resolutely ignored (file image)
According to Tory MP Jake Berry, civil servants who refuse to go back to the office full-time are ‘woke-ing from home’.
A bad pun, but it contains a nugget of truth. We’d rather talk to the new cockapoo than have a catch up by the water-cooler.
Months ago, Whitehall bosses issued new guidelines asking for a ‘gradual’ return – a message which has been resolutely ignored. Now, the civil service are advertising jobs along with a London uplift in salary to cover travelling costs – even though any lucky applicant will be allowed to work from home!
Some civil servant bosses reckon workers should be able to choose exactly what hours (if any) they put in at the office. Is this really the way to cut waste and increase output?
JANET STREET-PORTER: When a fuel shortage led to panic at the pumps, Boris eventually called in the army to deliver fuel
This week, the Prime Minister admitted, that in spite of being sent a letter by the Cabinet Secretary, his own staff were digging their heels in.
Why should the rest of the country obey the Prime Ministers’ back to work edict and help make Britain Great Again if he can’t even succeed with his own team?
As for the jobs which nobody can be arsed to apply for (which Boris is convinced we will fill if the pay improves) – driving lorries, picking broccoli, cleaning hotel rooms, washing up dishes in cafes and restaurants and butchering pigs – I’m not convinced.
Two in five businesses say they can’t recruit enough workers, up from a third in August. Pay is slowly improving, but will it be enough? Waitrose is offering up to £53,000 to recruit lorry drivers- and that cost will be passed on to consumers.
Boris harbours a dream that somehow thousands of the unemployed will wake up one day, and think ‘I’ve always wanted to butcher a rare breed heifer’ in a slaughterhouse or ‘it’s my dream to make 72 beds in a morning, whilst arranging the towels to make swans, and not forgetting to sanitise every surface’. I very much doubt that miracle will happen without pay dramatically rising – and that will lead to an increase in the cost of living very quickly.
When a fuel shortage led to panic at the pumps, Boris eventually called in the army to deliver fuel and was forced to offer a limited number (just 300- hardly enough to make much difference) of temporary work permits to non-British HGV drivers. The industry pay and conditions are so bad that so far just 127 (or 27, depending on who you believe) have applied.
Working from home has softened our minds and given us a new power. The boot has moved to the other foot- the majority of office workers saying they want ‘hyrid’ or ‘flexible’ hours in the future.
When your desk is the kitchen table and your canteen the fully stacked fridge, are you really putting in the same amount of work as you would in the workplace?
Those regular comfort breaks to check dating apps, stroke the cat, give the dog a chew, and reload the dishwasher according to Dishi Rishi’s specifications can really eat into the working day. And why would you walk to a station or a bus stop, mix with the possibly-infected, just to show your face in the office in the vain hope of promotion?
All the polls reveal that employees are unwilling to return to the old way of working, with three quarters saying the workplace has changed for good.
But the result might be good for their work-life balance, but bad for customers and consumers. From my own experience, getting hold of anyone when they all work different days in their ‘hybrid’ arrangements, is a nightmare. Accountants say that key files are in the office when you call them on their mobile at home. Or when they are in the office, the files are at home.
Try getting a passport or a driving licence – as I have been doing for the past two weeks, and you enter the bermuda triangle of NO ONE AT WORK. A service that should take a week now is open-ended. They send out wet texts with message like ‘you should get your passport in a few days’. What are these words ‘should’ and ‘few’? The old notion of service has gone out of the window with flexi-working.
Is WFH good for Boris’ vision of a highly productive, better paid UK PLC? I think not.
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