Letter From The UK: Jobs For Life

  • Are we taking our jobs for granted? Should we be more thankful to our employers? 
  • Should we, as employees, be more flexible with our jobs in a changing economic landscape? 
  • Geoff Maxted of DriveWrite Automotive Magazine examines in this latest Letter From The UK.

A recent survey across the United States found that a ‘shockingly’ high number of employees feel as if they are unable to work out because of their jobs; which begs the question: why is this a responsibility of the employer? Certainly, employers are responsible for all aspects of health and safety within their industry and have, up to a point, a duty of care, but does that spill over into private lives?

Results of The Study

The survey revealed that over two-thirds of respondents said their employers are not providing them with fitness benefits. More than half say their employer makes it difficult for them to get a workout in during the week! Why? Should employers meekly say, ‘Sure, take all the time you need,’ halfway through the morning? Are gyms not open in the evenings?

It gets worse: Two out of every five of these employees believe their employer is responsible for their health! You couldn’t make this up, and it’s a big eye-opener about how we treat our working lives today. The study was conducted by Zeamo, a digital fitness ‘platform’ who surveyed 5,000 people across the United States.

The British Welfare State

Now, before America gets upset, this writer will reveal that, if anything, it’s worse here. After the second World War, a Welfare State was established in the UK (although the origins date back to 1902) whereby the State took it upon itself to protect and promote the economic and social well-being of the citizens. In short, when the chips were down, the State would not let you starve. It was and remains a superb and very fair plan which, inevitably, has been amended, abused, and fragmented by politicians and the result is a sort of dependency by the populace.

Instead of being a last resort, it becomes a right. It is this vibe which has permeated the whole of our lives, including our working lives.

An NPR story last year details how young people still seek a traditional college education in the interest of better opportunity. However, NPR’s report finds that skilled trade jobs provide plenty of opportunity to the right applicant. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, roughly 30 million jobs in the United States pay an average yearly salary of $55,000, yet don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

The Sad Case of Swindon

Do you remember when the latest model Honda Civic arrived on American shores a couple of years back? They are built in Swindon, a town in the county of Wiltshire, in England and where this writer lives. Earlier this year, the Honda board announced it would close the UK plant in 2021. Some 3,500 loyal Swindon workers will likely lose their jobs. Now, although this planned closure coincides with the ongoing and increasingly desperate saga of Brexit, Honda insists it has nothing to do with Britain leaving the European Union.

It is, they say, due to unprecedented changes in the global automotive industry. This latter point is true enough.

Naturally, this has caused a huge furore in the UK, especially with the rumor that Honda instead will build the next-generation Civic in North America. With wearying inevitability, old-school union representatives start calling out those dastardly bosses at the Japanese brand and demanding the government do something; but what should they do?

Honda of the UK Manufacturing is the global production hub for the Civic. In 2015, the plant produced its 3 millionth car. Photo: Honda Motor Europe Ltd.

Movers & Shakers

It is tragic for the families of Swindon who at this time must be viewing the future bleakly; but here in the West we live in a capitalistic society where the law of supply and demand rules. This is nothing new: Steelworks are under threat from cheap Chinese steel; retail outlets are closing down rapidly as online shopping continues to grow. These days we can buy a car and have it delivered to the door without ever leaving home. A company may be responsible for the workers at work, but are they responsible for their lives?

There are other car factories in other parts of the UK that are doing well. Are there any jobs going there? Are the workers prepared to move to an area where there is work, which, historically, has been the case? With the rise of home ownership and the need for places in schools, this is not so easily accomplished. Recently, an appalling UK television channel, Channel 4, announced it was moving its base from London to the Northern city of Leeds. Up to 90 percent of the staff say they’ll quit, rather than move somewhere they don’t want to be.

We can only hope that another car maker takes over the Swindon plant (there’s a suggestion this might be the case) or some other business or industry comes to town to take up the slack.

The Transformation of Manufacturing and the Decline in U.S. Employment (National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 24468, March 2018) by Economists Kerwin Kofi Charles, Erik Hurst, and Mariel Schwartz notes a decline in “cross-regional migration,” according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the past, workers were more likely to move for a new job.

Fit For Work

Once, really not that long ago, we, as workers, would apply for a job and actually be grateful for it. It meant stability and food on the table. After a while though, as the modern world turns, we become complacent and that gratitude turns to dependency.

Ultimately, that dependency turns to entitlement. We own this job; we warrant it. It is ours. We demand extra time during the working days to go and work on our abs.

Not so.

As the motor industry has shown very clearly, we are all affected by changing times. The demonisation of fossil fuels, the rise of the substitute electric cars, and the converging and sharing of vehicle platforms and model types has meant car manufacturers have had to make seismic changes to their business models.

At no time in the past have people been entitled to jobs. The job is theirs through the good graces and successful business practices of the employers. It is up to the workers to help ensure that business turns a good profit because one thing is sure; there is no such thing as a job for life.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite

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