Not Quite What It Seems

A report:

Eastern European migrants working on the construction of a £600m NHS hospital have been taking home as little as £8.80 for a 39-hour week, the Guardian has learned, in what has been described by union bosses as one of the worst instances of employee abuse in the building sector since EU enlargement.

The group of around 12 men, most of whom are Lithuanian, are construction workers on the government-backed PFI project in Nottinghamshire. Though allegations of abuse of migrants\’ rights on construction sites are widespread across the country the scale in this instance has shocked unions and politicians.

Michael Clapham, MP for Barnsley West and Penistone, who is due to raise the matter in parliament today, said: "This happened on a government project where there are good rules and a strong union – who knows what is happening on the hundreds of smaller sites around the UK?"

According to industry guidelines and an agreement between unions and the building firm Skanska, which is overseeing the project, workers on the site should have been earning more than £7 an hour. But after deductions for rent, tool hire and utility bills, some of the Lithuanian employees were receiving so little observers say it left them virtually destitute.

Horrors, right? Vile exploitation? And we all know that people only read the first few paragraphs of a news story anyway.

So, this meme will escape into the conversation and will become one of those unimpeachable facts. People being screwed over and working for only £8.80 a week. Expect to see it all over CiF soon enough. Maybe even in a column or two.

However, it\’s the next sentence which is the important one:

Payslips seen by the Guardian show that one man worked a 39-hour week and took home just £8.80 after his entire monthly rent was deducted in one week, in breach of the law.

Ahh…..paying some 25% of your wages for housing, well, umm, isn\’t that actually about the national average? Or below it even?

Sure, it\’s a little stupid, possibly even malevolent on the part of the employer to take a month\’s rent out of a week\’s paycheque, but it\’s not really quite the same as being paid £8.80 a week, is it?

After a 39-hour week, one man took home £8.80 when his monthly rent of £155 was deducted in one week.

So his monthly income is (assuming a four week month) £655.20, with a £155 rent payment, so a £125.05 average nett weekly income after housing costs. No, I wouldn\’t want to work for that either, but it is very different indeed from £8.80, isn\’t it?

But just watch this meme spread.

17 thoughts on “Not Quite What It Seems”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    So was it an accident or a deliberate lie?

    Given it was the Guardian, does anyone really think for a second it was one and not the other?

  2. “However, a colleague said at least seven of them were sharing a three-bedroom flat and they cycled to work to save money.”

    Shouldn’t this dimunition of carbon footprints be celebrated? Or is that a different meme/frame of reference?

  3. If your rent’s only £155, then £655’s actually quite a nice wage. I imagine the accommodation’s not great for that rent, but, hey, we all start somewhere. Would I put up with it myself? Well, at one point, I paid a fairly low rent by sharing a flat with a small-time drug-dealer and thief and had to field phonecalls at 2 in the morning from some dangerous bloke the bastard stupidly owed money to. Not long after, I had a nice low mortgage on my own place but local kids did set fire to the place three times and I did have junkies using the stairwell outside my front door and did once leave my flat to see some bloke (the veins in whose arms and legs were presumably long since collapsed) shooting heroin into his penis. So yes.

  4. You know, thinking about this some more…

    These are builders. Builders who have their accommodation provided by their employer for the duration of a job often get to live in run-down caravans or crappy portacabins. This isn’t an immigrant thing. We’re obviously supposed to react with outrage to “seven of them were sharing a three-bedroom flat”, but I bet plenty of experienced builders are thinking “They get a flat? Luxury!”

  5. Sure, it’s a little stupid, possibly even malevolent on the part of the employer to take a month’s rent out of a week’s paycheque

    Why? Assuming the employer is paying the rent to the landlord of the flat monthly, to charge the workers weekly will either involve the employer or the builders being temporarily out of pocket every month.

    Anyway, weekly wages and monthly bills are not a problem if proper budgeting is done. It is only the overall totals that matter.

  6. “Anyway, weekly wages and monthly bills are not a problem if proper budgeting is done. It is only the overall totals that matter.”

    …unless, like the chap here, you have the monthly bill deducted from your /first/ paycheque – at which point, unless you have savings or easy access to credit, you’re a bit shafted.

  7. …unless, like the chap here, you have the monthly bill deducted from your /first/ paycheque – at which point, unless you have savings or easy access to credit, you’re a bit shafted.

    Indeed, but surely it is normal for rent to be paid in advance while salary is paid in arrears? I don’t see what is exceptional or newsworthy about this case.

  8. “…unless, like the chap here, you have the monthly bill deducted from your /first/ paycheque – at which point, unless you have savings or easy access to credit, you’re a bit shafted.”

    When I got my first job after leaving uni, I had to pay a month’s rent in advance, but got paid by my employer at the end of the month. Back then I thought it was normal. But looking back I realise that I WAS EXPLOITED!

  9. OK, from the Telegraph:
    The cases only came to light after the men’s pay stopped completely, with some owed up to five weeks back pay, the union said.

    If they are not being paid for work they have done, this is indeed scandalous and newsworthy.

    Treated as self-employed, they did not receive overtime

    I don’t know what the law requires regarding overtime for building workers. Of course, many workers do not get paid overtime.

    Payslips show how some worked in excess of 70 hours a week for less than £100 after deductions.

    £5200 a year after tax, NI and rent is paid. Possibly council tax and utilities as well, if these are included in the rent. This is not a lot to show for such long and hard work, but I’m sure many people in the country would love to be in such a financial position.

    Disclaimer: no, I am not one of these people, but I do remember when I started work having to pay 3 weeks rent (plus 2 full months rent as deposit) in advance, 3 weeks before payday. Rent then was ~50% of take home pay. Fortunately I had sufficient savings to cover this.

  10. “OK, from the Telegraph”

    I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from that article. It’s rubbish. Ditto for the Guardian. These articles give snippets of data, but the data is free of context and it’s impossible to draw any conclusions other than journalists in this country, as a breed, are ignorant morons or cynical manipulators.

    Whether the employer here is a ruthless capitalist pig exploiter of workers, or that the unions are stirring up trouble to foist protectionist employment regulations on us, we can’t tell, but I rather suspect the latter.

  11. Kay Tie: when I moved to a privately rented flat in my second year of university, not only was my first month’s rent payable up front, but also a security deposit (two months’ rent). On top of that I had to get a three-month Travelcard, a load of kitchen equipment and enough food to last me until my grant cheque was processed.

    Of course I was utterly boracic the whole time I was there, but to complain never crossed my mind.

  12. “Of course I was utterly boracic the whole time”

    Being a person with an inquisitive mind (borderline OCD if you’re unkind), I decided to finally find out what the term “borasic” truly means. I’ve seen it spelled “brassic” too, which means “cabbage-like” (from the Latin for cabbage, “brassica”).

    Turns out that it’s Cockney slang, “borasic lint” = “skint”, with “borasic” being an older form of of the adjective “boric” and “boric lint” being a kind of anti-septic gauze used for dressing wounds.

    The word “skint” itself is an alternative spelling of “skinned”, with “to skin” meaning “to take money from” or “to swindle”.

    So there you go. Nothing to do with cabbage at all. And I did check that I locked the car. Twice. Maybe I should check once more to be sure?

  13. Odd that, I have about 15 East Europeans deployed on site at the moment and they get paid the same as the Brits I deploy. A minimum of £10.00 an hour.

  14. Treated as self-employed, they did not receive overtime.

    Presumably the building company did not make tax and NI deductions, then. And I suspect, nor did the individuals.

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