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RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Welcome to the House of Fun… We are being hamstrung by selfish refuseniks

As long-suffering readers of this column will be aware, I cut my teeth as an industrial correspondent, covering countless stand-offs between employers and trades unions.

The miners’ strike, the steel strike, the engineering strike, the Ford strike, the British Leyland toolmakers’ strike, the lorry drivers’ strike, the Winter of Discontent, the flexible rogering dispute on the railways — you name it, your Uncle Rich was only ever as far as the nearest pub away from the action.

Back then, the late 1970s to mid-1980s, the workers had the whip hand. It was only after Mrs Thatcher crushed Arthur Scargill and Rupert Murdoch outflanked the print unions at Wapping that the balance of power began to change.

The ubiquity of Zoom and the generosity of Dishi Rishi’s furlough programme during the Covid lockdown has convinced millions of people that they never need to go into the office again

Money For Nothing And Your Chips For Free was supposed to be a one-off during Eat Out To Help Out, not a way of life

Money For Nothing And Your Chips For Free was supposed to be a one-off during Eat Out To Help Out, not a way of life

Technology shifted the dial still further, as manual labour made way for machines controlled by computers. Now that same technology is throwing the pendulum into reverse. The tyranny of the trades unions has been replaced by a culture of entitlement and individual ‘rights’.

The ubiquity of Zoom and the generosity of Dishi Rishi’s furlough programme during the Covid lockdown has convinced millions of people that they never need to go into the office again.

Money For Nothing And Your Chips For Free was supposed to be a one-off during Eat Out To Help Out, not a way of life.

Yet how many times have we heard smug ‘Working From Home’ enthusiasts saying they’ve never had it so good, what with all the cash they’re saving on rail fares, dry cleaning and not having to pay two quid for a cup of coffee?

Now, with most people double-jabbed up the wazoo, there’s no excuse for anybody staying away from their former workplaces. But that’s exactly what’s happening both in Britain and America.

Two of the most dynamic economies on earth are being hamstrung by selfish refuseniks insisting they have a God-given right to work from home for ever.

The problem has been compounded by Government paying people to do nothing for the past year and a half. If you can get 80 per cent of your salary for sitting on your sofa watching daytime TV and eating Hobnobs, why would you volunteer to flip burgers for minimum wage?

Firms across the board are faced with a hiring crisis, especially the hospitality and retail sectors which have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Despite the fact that more than 180,000 jobs have been lost in retail alone during lockdown, nobody seems to want those that are now going begging.

The restaurant trade is desperate for staff. Even upmarket operations, such as those run by top chef Michel Roux Jnr, are having to restrict their opening hours because of a severe shortage of chefs and waiters.

Fast-food chains can’t hire employees for love nor money. It’s the same in the U.S., where even branches of McDonald’s are being forced to close at 8pm because no one is prepared to work there. The entitlement culture is epitomised by staff at Apple, in California, who are flatly refusing to return to work three days a week from September.

Despite being paid an average of $125,000 a year (around £90,000 at current rates of exchange), they have written to the company saying that requiring them to go back to the office impacts on their ‘well-being’ and runs counter to their ‘lived experiences’.

If you wonder where the Markles get it from, look no further.

After 15 months of enforced idleness, firms in Britain are resorting to desperate measures to bribe staff back to their headquarters.

Companies including NatWest, Microsoft, BP and Santander are ripping out desks and turning their offices into ‘social spaces’ with sofas, bars and relaxation areas and giving away free ice creams.

One architectural partnership, which specialises in designing office space, reports it has had requests to install running tracks, ping-pong tables, video games, full-sized trampolines, a bouncy castle, a helter-skelter and skateboards to help people get around.

Say what you like about Barmy Arthur Scargill. He may have made some outlandish demands when he ran the National Union of Mineworkers, but I can’t ever recall him threatening to call a strike unless the Coal Board put up helter-skelters at every pithead to help his members unwind after a hard day at the coalface.

I do remember an executive at one of my former papers going through some kind of breakdown during which he took to riding a bike round the newsroom.

Management sent him to The Priory. They didn’t build him a velodrome on the roof.

We also had a chief reporter whose party piece was doing somersaults across the office every Christmas, after returning refreshed from El Vino’s wine bar. His punishment was being sent to the pub with a pocket full of expenses. Nobody thought to buy him a trampoline so he could hone his technique.

Commuters wearing face coverings due to Covid-19, enter Oxford Circus London Underground station in central London

Commuters wearing face coverings due to Covid-19, enter Oxford Circus London Underground station in central London

When did turning offices into funfairs become a prerequisite for persuading reluctant staff to turn up for work?

These luxuries are, of course, the exclusive preserve of a certain class of employee who have filled their boots during the pandemic.

The wag who described lockdown as ‘middle-class people hiding while working-class people brought them things’ was bang on the money.

Selfish WFH fanatics couldn’t care less about the millions in small businesses such as cafes, coffee bars and newsagents who rely on their custom to make a living. Still, as I’ve been saying all along, many of them may be in for a rude awakening, sooner rather than later.

If their jobs can be done from home in Leamington Spa, their bosses will soon work out that they can also be done by someone in Lahore, for a tenth of their wages. Their ‘lived experience’ may soon amount to drawing the dole for the rest of what would have been their working lives.

Companies have every right to sack anyone who refuses to return to the office without good reason.

Those who think WFH can last for ever should heed the advice director Alfred Hitchcock gave to a young actor who asked what his ‘motivation’ was for the part he was playing.

‘Your salary, dear boy,’ Hitch told him. ‘Your salary.’

Can we please stop referring to Carrie Johnson, nee Symonds, as the First Lady. She’s merely the wife of the Prime Minister and has no official status, whatever she may think.

We’ve already got a First Lady: Her Majesty The Queen.

Who’s taking the Mickey?

Just when we thought the pandemic panic was over, it’s all gone Mickey Mouse again

Just when we thought the pandemic panic was over, it’s all gone Mickey Mouse again

The travel industry has been hoping, fingers crossed, that Joe Biden and Boris Johnson will announce that regular flights between Britain and America will resume in time for the school holidays.

States such as Texas and Florida are pretty much back to normal and the U.S. vaccination programme is catching up fast with our own.

It’s in everyone’s interest to open up transatlantic travel. Attractions like Disney World in Orlando rely on British tourists, who in 2019 spent more than $16 billion in America.

But with our Government behaving like frightened rabbits, why would Biden lower the drawbridge?

Just when we thought the pandemic panic was over, it’s all gone Mickey Mouse again.

According to the author Michael Booth, comparing differences in morality between Britain and Denmark, five to seven per cent of Danish men admit to having had sex with an animal.

That might explain why the Vikings had horns on their helmets.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll be giving Danish bacon a miss in future, as well as laying off the Lurpak.

If you enjoyed my ‘Ring of Steel’ story about the submarine on Friday, you’ll love the memoirs of legendary Daily Mirror hack John Jackson — Reflections Of A Mirror Man, out now.

Jacko invented the ring of steel scoop, which became a Fleet Street staple.

Incidentally, the Mail’s Simon Walters reminds me that during the 1985 Tory conference in Blackpool, the fictitious submarine resurfaced. Riding in a taxi with two colleagues, one of whom made up the original story, the driver informed them that there was a sub stationed off the pier to protect Mrs T.

Stifling giggles, they told him not to believe everything he read in the papers.

‘Oh, no,’ he said. ‘It’s real. My missus is a cleaner at the Imperial Hotel and every morning she can see the periscope coming up for air.’

How long before booing footballers taking the knee becomes a hate crime, an arrestable offence? Watch this space…

When I nicknamed the Nepal strain of Covid-19 the Sherpa Tenzing Variant, I had no idea that a couple of days later Mount Everest would be closed amid fears that mountaineers were spreading the virus around the world.

You couldn’t make it up.


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