Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. And, the labourer is worthy of his hire.

There’s the tale of a lad who went for a job on a farm. The old farmer who interviewed him asked what he could do. The lad replied ‘Everything.’

‘Can you milk cows?’

‘Yes, no worries.’

‘Can you plough?’

‘As good a ploughman as you’ll find anywhere.’

‘Can you clip sheep?’

‘Won competitions for it.’

By this time the old lad felt he ought to bring the cocky little beggar down a bit so he asked, somewhat sardonically, ‘Can you wheel smoke in a barrow?’

To which the prospective employee replied, ‘You shovel it, I’ll wheel it.’

It’s a while now since I last employed anybody. The seven pound weight of the bumper fun-pack we got sent by the tax authorities when we took on our first employee ensured that that was a mistake I’d never make again.

But of those who did work for us, either on a training scheme or as proper employees, by and large they were a decent bunch of young people that I’d cheerfully recommend to anyone.

We had one lass who had the makings of first rate cowman, but went on to be an ambulance paramedic. I like to think the livestock handling skills we taught her were invaluable in her new profession.

We had another lad who stood about four foot six in his stocking feet. When he first arrived we went into a field to collect a cow and her new-born calf. At this point the other seventy cows all noticed what was going on and came running across to look. If I hadn’t caught the lad by the shoulder as he turned to flee we’d probably never have seen him again. But a week later he went into the collecting yard to get me a brush, and as he came back through seventy milk cows, all I could see was the brush, like a periscope, passing in-between them.

But the relationship between employee and employer is predominantly an economic relationship. If in the hour I pay them £10 for, they don’t at least add £10 to the value of the business, eventually I have ‘let them go’ or the business will fail. It’s that simple.

Now the value they add needn’t be in widgets punched out or sales targets achieved. I’ve talked to receptionists who were well worth their salary. They didn’t directly add to the balance sheet, but the way they greeted people, made them feel welcome, and ensured they got through to the right person as fast as possible gave me a positive feeling about the company.

Mind you I also remember phoning one company just before Christmas. The receptionist had been left to man (or woman) the telephones whilst all the rest of the staff had gone out to the staff Christmas do. But one of her friends had slipped her a bottle (at least one) of martini.

By the time I, in all innocence, phoned, she’d drunk most of the first bottle. So when I asked to speak to Mr So-and-so, she proceeded to tell me, in excruciating detail, about his sexual proclivities, dubious business practices and problems with personal hygiene. She then expanded her tirade to include the other partners, and was working her way through her ‘co-workers’ before I realised I’d been on the phone for over half an hour listening to this PR version of the slow motion car crash.

But the economics work both ways. If you’re a good lad, clean driving licence, used to handling machinery, sensible, then you’re probably worth more to me that someone who turns up with half a dozen degrees and other qualifications, a drink problem and an inability to work out which end of a fork is which.

Which I suppose brings us onto Lord Freud with his ‘Disabled people not worth paying the minimum wage’.

In some jobs and with some people, from the employer’s point of view he is right. It’s the person and the job. I know one cowman who had an artificial hand. I’ve known people with severe physical problems who’ve made excellent accountants and finance officers.

But looking at my business there are handicapped people who I couldn’t afford to employ at the minimum wage because however wonderful they are as people, they aren’t going to fetch in enough to cover the cost of employing them.

Now a lot of people get upset at this. But they’re confusing two things. Somebody’s economic value to a business and somebody’s moral worth as a human being.

A handicapped person is as entitled to as much respect, care and compassion as anybody else.

But dumping them in a minimum wage job they cannot really do, claiming you’ve ‘empowered’ them and forgetting about them is not respect, care, or compassion.

The economic value of a potential employee is for me, as the employer to determine.

The moral value of somebody as a person is for ‘Society’ to determine. But if ‘Society’ consists of people who just want to foist the cost of their preconceptions onto somebody else to pay, so that they can bask in the smug glow of their moral superiority, ‘Society’ ain’t worth jack.

wages001

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6 thoughts on “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. And, the labourer is worthy of his hire.

  1. willmacmillanjones October 17, 2014 at 10:16 am Reply

    You know I’m going to disagree with you, Jim, about Freud. Whilst I do not disagree that there is a moral worth and an economic worth for every person, I do believe that separating them at the most basic income level is itself immoral. Those with terrible difficulties need support but it should not be done by having the employer pay them like monkeys, in peanuts; that’s degrading. Give the employer financial help to take on these equal citizens of ours, as used to be the case – and then pay them as equals that’s the way it should be done.

    • jwebster2 October 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm Reply

      I’m sort of answering everybody here in one post 🙂

      With Mary, yes, this was a contrived scandal, the recording was made some weeks ago and released, out of context, when there was hope it would cause political problems for another party. But that’s the level the political pygmies have sunk to unfortunately. Most of them wouldn’t be able to hold down a job in the real world.

      But as I said in the blog, if these people are going to moan that some poor beggars aren’t paid properly, fine, put their hands in their own pockets and pay them. Don’t put their hand in my pocket to pay them.

      Looking at the big picture, I want to move away from focusing on the ‘handicapped’, because we have people who are no longer economically worth employing. Perhaps their health is too bad, their education inadequate, or they just don’t have a work ethic.
      In some cases you might be able to fix this by helping with health or education. That’s fine. The state can look at various programmes, most of which seem designed to provide excellent incomes for people running programmes, and try and tailor something which will do some good to the poor beggars who need help.
      Then hopefully it’ll lift them out of the cohort who struggle. If it takes a bit of funding to get them established in work, fair enough.

      But there’s another group for whom health care and education, however good, are not going to do anything. Dumping them on me and telling me to employ them isn’t going to work. They tried it; I no longer take people on government schemes. Seriously we got people who were a net loss to us, we spent more time and money on them than we ever got out of them.
      Paying those who are no real use £25k or £13 an hour is something of an insult to those who are actually working. Hell I don’t earn that every year!
      The problem is, however high a moral stance I take, I have to produce beef and lamb at a world market price. If I don’t, the retailers won’t buy it. So to survive, my costs have to be competitive with farmers elsewhere in the world. Selling into the UK market I have a little bit of an edge with transport costs, but thanks to government bureaucracy, a lot of my other costs are higher. Any wages I pay are just one more cost, and there is an absolute limit to how much my labour costs can be. Cut bureaucracy or increase the price, then fair enough I can pay more.
      Now some sectors there is no economic driver as such. You can hire as many consultants in your government department as you can wrangle a budget for, you can triple the number of people monitoring the inspection of manhole covers in Bracknell. The budgets are arbitrary, if there isn’t enough you can just tax people more, stick up a few more speed cameras, borrow more or print money.
      In the long term there’ll be tears, but it means you can put in place policies which personally cost those who put them in place nothing, but allow them to bask in the smug glow of righteousness and let them preach strident moral lectures to the mere mortals who actually have to pay their way 😦

  2. M T McGuire October 17, 2014 at 10:24 am Reply

    Excellent point, well made.

    As I understand it, the original discussion was about ways to make it possible for disabled people who want to work to find a job that they can do – possibly with help from the state where their work might not pay for itself. That seems to me like a great idea. Working, earning your own keep really gives you a sense of dignity and self worth that nothing else can.

    What annoyed me about this whole thing is that it’s obvious that’s what was being discussed at that meeting and this whole shit storm is just an opposing party taking the remark out of context and bantering with semantics. It’s bought the issue of employment and low paid jobs into the limelight but nobody is discussing it. They’re only talking about a Minister’s ill chosen words and how he might have meant them. It’s actually very clear how they were meant.

    Interestingly, benefits are worth about £25k. It takes some serious chutzpah to give that up for jobs that pay £12k, or £13k – even with the prospect of enhancing that with overtime. Maybe if the government topped up those jobs to a package worth £25k, with rent and tax relief or whatever, maybe if they did that, a lot more people would be in work and the cost of benefits would go down.

    Just a thought.

    Cheers

    MTM

  3. The Story Reading Ape October 17, 2014 at 10:34 am Reply

    You’re BOTH right!
    The moral worth of ANYONE as a person is for Society to realise and treat accordingly – I.e., as a fellow human being first and foremost!
    The economic value of ANYONE is what they give back or add to their employer, local community and humanity in general.
    😀

  4. willmacmillanjones October 17, 2014 at 12:55 pm Reply

    Mary,that’s where the working tax credits come into the picture: topping up work pay to a minimum level is what they do: sadly then, larger and unscrupulous employers have used the existence of the Tax Credits to hire lots of short hour staff, and pay them the sort of subsistence income enjoyed by Jim and I.

    There’s a certain sector of society who will never work our hours, because disability means they cannot: for society to deny them a basic decent standard of living would be wrong. I actually agree with Jim that these disadvantaged people struggle to add economically to a job and need support – but it has to be in a way that improves their self image, and paying them next to nothing will not do that : an alternative way of paying them has to be found

    • jwebster2 October 17, 2014 at 1:19 pm Reply

      And you have to pay them to do something. A lot of people who are working are in tough dead-end jobs that lack any sort of ‘job satisfaction’. They just do it for the money.
      If they turn round and find people are being paid more to do nothing than they are being paid to work, they are not going to be happy. Indeed they might point out that there is no point in them working

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