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‘These companies can afford to pay the living wage.’ Boris Johnson

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Low wages and zero hour contracts aren’t issues that will go away after the general election, writes professor of responsible tourism Harold Goodwin.

Boris Johnson is the Mayor of London, his personal vision of “moral purpose” in business and politics may make disquieting reading for London hoteliers.  Boris is a potential leader of the Conservative Party and may become prime minister. He has set out his stall for the UK elections arguing that wealth creation is there to fund public service, schools and hospitals. There is a public purpose for wealth creation.

He has urged Tories to embrace the Living Wage campaign and to raise the pay of the poorest to £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 elsewhere. He told the Evening Standard last week,  “What we are about is helping people to get a higher standard of living, to improve the quality of their lives.” For the Mayor of London the Living Wage is “critical” to his vision of “helping working people to make something of their lives.”

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have all backed the Living Wage – there are two main drivers of the rising tide of support for the campaign that started back in 2001. The first is the moral purpose argument of enabling people to make something of their lives and helping the deserving working poor.

The second argument is still more widely supported – there is mounting concern and anger about the public subsidy to profit making employers who have their labour costs subsidised by taxpayers. Pay attention to what potential future Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson said to the Evening Standard: “I think it is madness that we have big corporations that pay chief executes huge sums of money, and their lowest paid workers are subsidised by the tax payer. These companies can afford to pay the living wage.”

The Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) back in May 2012, in the context of the Olympics, announced that they had  adopted the London Living Wage, raising the earnings of 850 staff to £8.30 an hour over the next five years. Unite are claiming that IHG has made no progress in implementing its pledge and that “a large proportion of IHG workers are sub-contracted through employment agencies and earn £6.50 per hour – the legally-binding national minimum wage.”

The election in the UK has brought the issue of zero hours contracts and the casualization of work to the fore, with particular concerns about asymmetrical zero hours contracts where the workers are unable to take other work, but the employer is not required to find them 35 hours. The employer gains a flexible labour supply, the workers get a low and unstable wage and is subsidised through the welfare system by taxpayers.  The taxpayer is again subsidising the employer.

It is going to be very difficult to put these issues back in the box after the election with another round of spending cuts on welfare to come, politicians and electors are likely to be even more intolerant of subsidies for profitable companies.

There are other concerns too in the Low Pay Commission’s 2015 report.

– The Low Pay Commission in its 2015 Report says that they have “received evidence in recent years of workers engaged to clean hotel rooms, by agency and contract cleaning companies, on a per room basis. This is not illegal in itself. However, the rates were often too low for the workers to have the prospect of earning at least” the National Minimum Wage.

– Unite in their evidence to the Low Pay Commission “gave examples of how agencies, typically faced with an agreed payment from the hotel for each cleaned room, had an incentive to raise profits by increasing the number of rooms cleaned per hour.”

– Unite also drew the attention of the Low Pay Commission to ‘bogus self-employment’ becoming increasingly prevalent in employment agencies supplying workers to the hotel sector. It described a situation of a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of employment standards in the London hotel sector, fed, in its view, by widespread outsourcing to employment agencies.

– “HMRC’s investigations into businesses supplying workers in the hospitality sector (specifically hotel cleaning). Ten cases were investigated, with six of these now closed, recovering arrears of over £17,000 for 216 workers. There was an array of infringements, ranging from deductions due to attachment of earnings, uniform deductions, unpaid travel time and hotel cleaning room rates that paid below the National Minimum Wage when calculated against hours worked.” The Low Pay Commission urged HMRC to continue with enforcement operations.

Photo: Tax Credits via Flickr

Further reading:

Nestlé agrees to pay employees and contractors living wage

FTSE chief executives surpass average annual salary in 2 days

Low Pay Commission recommends 3% minimum wage increase

Executive pay 180 times average – as wealth gap increase

FTSE 100 CEOs’ pay 143 times higher than employees’ in 2013

 

Environment

Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living

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Eco-Living
Shutterstock Photos - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.

However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.

They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.

What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??

Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded. 

Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.

In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.

Mottainai

Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.

Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.

How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?

Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.

For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.

Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.

Their influence in the UK

The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.

Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.

In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.

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Energy

What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?

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Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/sdecoret

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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