The theftocrisy of British business

On Tuesday Mike Ashley the owner of Sports Direct, purveyor of cut price sporting clothing to middle aged men with beer guts who insist on dressing like they were really Olympic athletes, appeared before a committee of MPs in the Commons to address concerns about working conditions in his company’s warehouses. Workers for a company selling clothing made in Asian sweatshops have been paid less than the minimum wage, have endured humiliating and degrading working conditions, and have intimidated into turning up for work even though they were seriously ill.

Welcome to the working life of Britain’s low paid, the so called strivers and hard working families that politicians like to pontificate about. While the workers suffer and get ripped off, those politicians give titles and rewards to the bosses whose businesses only function because they rip off their workers. Welcome to a culture of fear created by those who can afford yachts and mansions while a decent standard of living is increasingly beyond most of the population.

When an employer docks 15 minutes of a worker’s pay because the worker was one minute late, that’s theft and bullying. A worker doesn’t have the same clout as a company to ensure that there is equality of treatment. The worker can’t insist that if she or he has had to work one minute longer than their normal shift in order to complete a vital order that the company reimburse them with fifteen minutes of pay to compensate them for the extra minute. In fact what is more likely to happen is if the worker knocks off at the exact second their shift ends leaving the order unfulfilled, they’re likely to find that their contract won’t be renewed. The company profits, the workers are penalised. That’s how business in Britain works.

When a company insists that its workers endure a humiliating and degrading security clearance which can take as long as 45 minutes, and doesn’t count that as work time, that’s the company stealing from the workers. It’s stealing their time, time which it isn’t paying for. It’s increasing an already arduous working day without recompense, and it is treating all its staff like thieves while it itself is thieving from them. It’s workers being subjected to the presumption of guilt from bosses who are guilty of the same crime that they’ve condemned their workers for. That’s the combination of theft with hypocrisy, it’s theftocrisy.

Workers for Sports Direct who accumulated six negative reports in six months found themselves out of work. You could get a negative report for chatting too much, for being ill, or for wanting to go to the toilet. Inmates of Victorian poor houses endured less, at least they could go to the toilet when they wanted. Staff at the company peed into bottles, turned up for work when their pregnancies were almost full term, when their doctors had told them they had serious health conditions.

According to the union Unite, some workers for the company received their wages through an electronic card. They were charged £10 to get the card, another £10 a month for ‘administration costs’ and 75p every time they used it in an ATM machine to get their own money out. That’s not unlike the truck system which was once used to pay miners. They had to spend their wages in the company store, using tokens issued to them in lieu of cash, where they paid rip off prices and so ended up paying the bosses for the privilege of being employed on a wage which didn’t allow them to live in dignity. It was outlawed in 1887 because it was seen as a form of slavery. And here we are in 2016 with its modern electronic equivalent. It ought to be illegal for a company to charge its staff to receive their own wages. The administration costs of paying a wage should be borne by the company, not the workers. This is how much basic workers’ rights have gone backwards in this UK. And if we leave the EU, it will only get worse. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove aren’t campaigning for a Brexit so that they can protect the rights of workers.

Too many companies in the UK earn vast profits for their overpaid bosses by dint of exploiting and oppressing the low paid staff who actually do the hard work. The business models of these companies depends upon exploitation, that means they depend upon theft. They don’t just rob employees of their wages, that would be bad enough, but they also rob their workers of their dignity, their self-respect, and their morale. And by paying their workers such miserable wages that the workers have to rely on tax credits and benefits top ups, those businesses rip off the state as well, they rip off everyone. The real benefits fraud is committed by the directors who cream off millions while their workers’ low wages are subsidised by the taxpayer.

If your business depends on paying your workers so poorly that they’re not even making the minimum wage, a wage which is below the amount required to achieve a decent standard of living, you have no business being in business. If your business depends on depriving workers of their basic human dignity, of humiliating and bullying them into submission, you belong in jail not in the Chamber of Commerce.

And then the man who was responsible for creating these working conditions appears before a committee of MPs, and they praise him for his honesty and candour. Tony Blair knighted Philip Green, who made off with millions from BHS before it had to close, and he knighted Fred Goodwin, who likewise made off with millions before the Royal Bank of Scotland had to be bailed out by the public. And it was all perfectly legal.

In Britain if you steal a few pounds you go to jail. If you tell a few lies to get extra social security, you go to jail. But steal an entire bank, exploit the labour of thousands so that they are forced to rely on benefits while you enrich yourself, and you’re lauded as a wealth creator and you get a seat in the House of Lords. That’s how the United Kingdom works. That’s why we need to get out of it. I want to live in a land where all of us have an equal right to dignity and equal access to it. Indyref2 can’t come soon enough.

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51 comments on “The theftocrisy of British business

  1. The power of this piece is overwhelming, Paul.
    It clearly illustrates how far to the fascist Right the UK Has lurched since Thatcher Major Blair Brown Cameron and Clegg took over the reins.
    Like bookies, you never see a poor Unionist MP, do you?

    We must get out of this corrupt Union now.

    Peeing in a bottle at you place of work.
    Jesus wept.

  2. John Templeton says:

    Fred Goodwin was RBS not Bank of Scotland. The error doesn’t change what you are saying, which I totally agree with. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. An independent Scotland would change all of this. Roll on Indy referendum 2 where yes will win.

  3. says:

    Reblogged this on Bampots Utd.

  4. Jim Morris says:

    I solemnly pledge to vote Yes to an Independent Scotland in IndyRef2.

  5. Marconatrix says:

    Someone should explain how and when labour unions became just another part of the Establishment rather than effective defenders of their members.

  6. Macart says:

    Have you ever noticed that those who preach about work and wealth creation have rarely gotten their hands dirty (in the conventional sense)? Folk who’ve never been made redundant, or stood in a dole queue, sold themselves and their dignity for the right to eat or put a roof over their heads. People who’ve never taken shit from jobsworth supervisors high on a modicum of power and self importance and all to keep a menial position that keeps food on the table. They’ve never been terrified about losing a shit job and having to face a partner with the news that this week the choice is between paying a rent or feeding the weans.

    Oh, I’m sure some of them have spent long hours ensuring their political or city career path followed an upward trajectory. But then the rewards at that end of the spectrum of society more than offset tedious hours in an office or a set of committee chambers. Some may have been fortunate enough to be born to wealth. Some will come from more humble backgrounds (the truly fortunate IMO), but they’re easily bought off once their service to the establishment has been recognised (see under Labour Peer) and those humble beginnings are a long distant and unpleasant memory.

    If you’re anything like me you’ll remember what you had to do to survive through the eighties and nineties. If you’re not bright, talented or fortunate (again me), you simply did what you had to do. You cleaned human waste, labored on the land, worked the crappiest posts in the seasonal hospitality trade and tried to educate yourself as best possible between times. You’ll never own a home, own a new vehicle and if you get out of this life without debt, you’ll consider yourself a winner.

    So yeah, whenever I hear of the next wheeze perpetrated by central government which lines the pockets of big business and ensures that the right political parties receive the backing of said business sector, I have this uncanny urge to start knitting, smoke a clay pipe and build a guillotine.

    • diabloandco says:

      Knitting at the ready , not sure about the clay pipe though!

      Paul , was wee Fred the shred not the Royal bank of Scotland , or am I wrong?

      great word Theftocrisy , perfect description f big business and their political pals.

    • Can we not just use piano wire and lamp posts and leave them there for a few that LESSONS WILL BE LEARNED…… of these modern phases that means almost nothing

    • Formi-fuckin-dable, Macart.
      Allons , enfants!
      Next time Davidson urges us all to pull up our bootstraps, or JoLa (she’s back) reminds us that we are a ‘something for nothing’ race, I’ll think of the poor soul pissing in a bottle at his work station.
      I have letters after my name, still; in retirement, a member of my profession, the son of a coppersmith who passed away within months of retirement; I am a hybrid ‘professional’ drawn from the ranks of the Great Unwashed.
      There are hundreds of thousands like me, and my three brothers, who have segued quite honestly into ‘collar and tie’ jobs, as they used to be classed in ‘fifties Clydeside.
      They are surely not all dog eat dog Unionist elitists?
      I have managed quite literally thousands of folk in my time, but with the perspective of the Working Man I was, and that we are all after all Jock Tamson’s bairns. Dignity respect support, guidance, coaching, disciplining where necessary. What happened to these folks human values? Indeed did they ever have any?
      I am outraged at the working conditions described by Paul.
      Why are we letting them away with this?
      Because they are wealthy, powerful, and the Establishment?
      We must get out of this corrupt little Union soon.
      No argument.
      My blood, thinning though it may be, is boiling.

    • FM says:

      I loved that!

    • Golfnut says:

      Powerful and oh so true, sickeningly true.

  7. Jan Cowan says:

    This article is a brilliant piece of work. Something to be kept and copies passed on.

  8. HO HUM Paul while not supporting any of this when I was serving my engineering apprenticeship way back in the early 60’s you got ‘quartered’ if you were a minute late yes 15 minutes docked off what was a pittance of an hourly rate…..One thing it taught you was to be on time……do you know that lesson has never been forgotten. As for modern big business the Westminster pollyticians and many in Scotland too, plus the establishment well I best end here now.

  9. ADD says:

    Where is the STUC? Where is the leadership of the Unions in exposing and fighting this criminal behaviour? Why are the officials employed by the Unions not standing outside these workplaces touting for members? These victims are not going to come to them because they are too busy just surviving.

  10. mealer says:

    Great stuff,Paul.Heres a slightly trickier one.Should a nurse be paid more than a lavatory cleaner and if yes,how much more?

    • Sandy says:

      Yes, a nurse should be paid more than a lavatory cleaner. It takes years of training to become a nurse, most people could clean a lavatory with no training.

    • Steve Asaneilean says:

      Yes – pay should be based on level of training required and level of responsibility taken.

      That takes nothing away from the fact that any decent employer should be prepared to pay living wage – currently £8.25 an hour.

      Good for business and good for society.

  11. Robert Graham says:

    well how did we get here where so many people can’t go to a Bank Building Society or any financial institution with proof of a steady reliable income to advance themselves through house purchase or buy a car to travel for better employment prospects .When i started work in 1968 you either had a job or you were unemployed it was that black and white . I remember when M&S broke the one billion pound profit margin , This was hailed as proof of Thatcher’s new society where unfettered greed was worshiped this was used to promote the trickle down effect that was supposed to happen , Still waiting on that one , the damage done by that Psychopath and continued by darling Tony who flatly refused to reverse all the trade union legislation that more or less crippled the unions and workers rights went in the bin as a consequence , The unions dont come out of this smelling sweetly ,that was Thatcher’s excuse handed to her on a plate and her justification for trying to crush them .
    I guess we all were guilty at the time of the i’m alright i’m doing ok why bother never bothering to question Political parties as to what exactly they were getting up to , we knew what the Tories were doing the ones who blindsided us were the Labour party the workers friend i do hope they are finally getting what they deserve after a whole country has finally woken up and we can maybe start putting right the wrongs that we missed happening because we couldn’t be bothered .

  12. Robert Louis says:

    Boy am I angry. I will never, ever set foot into one of these sports direct stores ever again.

    It is indeed correct, the UK has become a theftocracy. The rich give themselves titles and enrich themselves, whilst those on the very lowest wages are treated like sh*te by those self same titled elite, day after day after day.

    And what are the red tories and their bloated union chums doing? SFA!

  13. Morag Lawson says:

    Thank you Paul for saying all the things I would like to say. You are a great voice for the people!

  14. Doris Edwards says:

    I used to drive my daughter to her zero hours job at Zara. She had to start – i.e. be at her till -10 minutes before her shift started in order to check the till and prep for the day. That was being done on her own time, unpaid by the employer. In my view, outrageous, but that’s how they work it.

  15. George says:

    Jesus that was straight to the point and 110% correct
    I used to work for a company a very long time ago and they deducted 15 mind from your wages if you went to the toilet so you see guys it’d been going on for many years. SAOR ALBA.

  16. Sandra Stewart says:

    Another exceptional piece. I am raging, sick and tired of the hypocrisy of so called democracy. Starting to think we need a revolution.

  17. mogabee says:

    I have, like many others, no love for Labour, but I would urge folk to go on line and watch the Unite union rep. talk prior to Ashley’s “grilling”.

    He came across as a decent guy angry at how conditions in the Sports Direct warehouse were condoned and his frustration of dealing with the management.

    The whole system of governance is corrupted in the UK. Thatcher started the rot but many others, particularly to their shame Labour, have embraced that notion of me me me until this situation of shaky contracts, no contracts and god knows what else is becoming “normalised” in large parts of the country.

    It all comes down to consumers demand for cheap clothes, food, etc. We are all guilty of that.

    • mogabee says:

      Of course I should have included these corporations desire for more and bigger profits and not paying fair levels of tax.

      As I said before…Governance is nonexistent but still the Tories want to reduce it more.

  18. JGedd says:

    Excellent WGD. Full of justified ire. I am of an age when the hormones don’t fire up as they once did, but when I heard of the disgusting work practices of this company I was shaking with anger. People should not be subjected to this.

    Do you remember the ‘Ratner moment’ when Gerald Ratner’s company bombed because of contempt he expressed about his customers buying the trash he sold? Does anyone know if Sports Direct has suffered any detriment from this negative publicity about its unconscionable treatment of its workers? I sometimes think that the public is becoming increasingly desensitized to the awful practices of the business-as-usual set.

    I sometimes get the impression that the establishment is doing what the bullies in the playground do with their victims – seeing how far they can push the public. Many in the establishment are swimming in money so it is no longer about merely acquiring wealth. I have the feeling that there is something more primitive going on, which is about how much you can make people endure, how much of their freedom they will let you take. That is real power, when you can make people conspire in their own subjection.

    The general collapse of empathy throughout the western democracies has been talked about and here we can see how the ruthless are taking advantage of that and revelling in their power to diminish hard-won freedoms.

    • Agreed.It demonstrates also how cowed and submissive people have become and you wonder what will finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Like you say, it’s almost like there is some kind of malevolent experiment in progress. Whilst I don’t believe in any of that cod religious occultist pish, it’s widely documented that Satanism is popular among the world’s elites and this case would appear to demonstrate an enthusiaam for that cult’s core values.

  19. Joe Kinnear says:

    Off topic but this might be of interest

  20. Angry Weegie says:

    Spot on, Paul. Perhaps the reason why the rich don’t care is because they believe the poor are sub-human as I argued earlier

  21. duncan campbell says:

    I agree with everything you said, but just wanted to point out it was the Royal Bank of Scotland, rather than the Bank of Scotland.

  22. Guga says:

    The Blue Tories and the Red Tories in their fœtid den in Westminster (both the elected ones in the House of Common Thieves,and the unelected House of Lards) are a conglomeration of liars, thieves, crooks and charlatans who, for the most part, are only there to enrich themselves and steal as much money as they can from the ordinary man in the street. They are not there to represent the people living in the YUK as they, in actuality, don’t give a stuff about the ordinary people. Their front benches consist of millionaires whose aim is to increase their millions, not to work on behalf of the people.

    On the other hand, these charlatans are there to do everything in their power to enhance the economy for their corporate and bankster mates to, among other things, assist themselves in being appointed to well paid, minimum hours jobs as directors of this or that company when they finally get the boot or retire on their inflated pensions and hidden overseas assets.

    To imagine that these creeps would do anything to ensure that the ordinary people could have a decent standard of living, or have a decent, affordable roof over their heads is in the realms of fantasy. They do not even bring in laws to protect the people from their unscrupulous corporate and bankster mates, or even from the crooks and shysters that are continually trying to rob the people; though they are more than happy to steal money from the poor, the elderly and the infirm.

    The only way we in Scotland can act to rid ourselves of these charlatans is to regain our independence and to have a Scottish government that will act for the common weal, and that can readily be held to account by the people.

  23. MI5 Troll says:

    Well said my friend. We know this bastard down in Ayrshire from his old warehouses there. I do have a personal grudge as a family member worked there through an agency. The conditions from England are familiar and if anything have got even worse in the last years. He is a shrewd guy who knows exactly what is happening in the workplace. (By the way I am sure I am the first person diagnosed with “Post Indyref Stress Hallucinations.” Every time I put on the the TV or radio I get distressing flashbacks to Project fear 2014 and I have a overwheming urge to slap all their smug tory faces. I am going to have a rest for 2 weeks then come out holding my nose to vote with Cameron,for the greater good.)

  24. Andy says:

    This isn’t only by a minority of employer’s though this is happening right across the board.

  25. John Edgar says:

    This whole scenario was condoned by Gordo in the past. He boasted about the need for a low wage economy (obviously not for himself or the banksters) so that people could “price themselves into jobs”.
    The low wage UK economy would safeguard jobs because the Continent had a high wage economy. I remember the company that makes HP sauce moved production to the Netherlands and about 200 people lost their jobs.
    Very ironic. I wonder if the Engxiters hope to repatriate this!

  26. Andimac says:

    Like WGD and everyone who has posted here, I am angry and disgusted with the system under which all this exploitation, injustice and, frankly, theft is not only allowed to happen but is rewarded by our political Westminster “masters”, as amoral and corrupt a pack of out-and-out bastards as you could find. I am not, however, in the least surprised. Basically, our society, if it can be called that, is rotten – obsessed with celebrity nonentities, “bake-offs”, talent shows and general fuckwittery. Anger and disgust are not enough and I doubt if many of the “general public” much care as long as they have a full belly, a good swally and a shag. For any meaningful change, it is imperative that those who actually do care organise, mobilise and try to get across the message, difficult though it will be, that we can do better than this, that we have to do better than this and we can only do better than this when we control our own destiny through independence.

  27. broadbield says:

    Agree with everything said here. Just one point about the comments on Unions. The unions in the UK have been emasculated and the workforce de-unionised. It started with Thatcher’s planned attack on the miners and has continued ever since through successive Tory and Labour governments. According to Commonspace “the UK … has some of the weakest worker protections in the EU, coming 31 out of 34 advanced economies as rated by the OECD”.

    With a government captured by business, workers need strong unions to help protect them the “unacceptable face” of capitalism.

  28. Morag says:

    I followed my sister into one of their stores in Inverness recently, as she was purchasing something for her son. We were served by a very nice lassie, polite and accommodating. On leaving the store I noticed the same lassie held at the exit/entrance of the store? I soon realised she was being body searched by a colleague, (as her shift must have finished?) I was embarrassed for her and vow I will never enter or purchase anything from Sports Direct. How humiliating for the lassie to work hard for the company and be automatically thought of as a thief!

  29. Pauline says:

    Only bit that I would disagree with is the bit about the EU. Leaving the EU will not make thing worse. We are IN the EU and this IS happening.

    For me it’s out of EU and out of the Union. Independence means self rule…. not letting even more unelected bureaucrats tell us what to do!

  30. A j says:

    The EU allows this to happen the sooner we leave the better

  31. arthur thomson says:

    A much needed piece Paul. Thank you.

    I have to respond to Mealer’s comment about whether a nurse should be paid more than a lavatory cleaner. It took me right back to the late sixties and early seventies when the major issue within and between trades unions was the maintenance of pay differentials. The glory days of Labour and the trade union movement – not.

    I don’t give a toss about ‘appropriate’ pay differentials between nurses and lavatory cleaners. The critical point is that the lavatory cleaners among us need a living wage – and I mean a genuine living wage. So called businesses that can’t or won’t pay a proper living wage are a parasitic liability not an asset.

    Nor should we ever forget the role that the Labour movement has played in undermining basic decency in our society. The ‘something for nothing’ smear put out by Labour reflects a feature of the Labour movement that it never owns up to. Many of those who have been at the heart of it have been no more than working class tories pursuing their self-interest. This has allowed the Labour movement to ignore the plight of the poorest in our society.

    If anyone ever had any doubt as to the moral ground some red tory trade unions stand on remember that they are actually prepared to support Trident because some of their members have jobs connected to it. For too long, perhaps since their inception, trade unions in many cases have been no more than private organisations promoting the self interests and differentials of their members. That is their right but they need to be seen for what they are and not imagined to be something better.

    We need a new social model that puts a real living wage at the centre of our economic system. Then the trade unions and business can fight their good fight with each other. They can do what they do best and squabble over how the spoils that are left over will be shared and how each of them is the most important in the great scheme of things.

    It is the government that needs to be at the heart of this change. An independent Scottish Government. A government that recognises that the need for all its people to have the basic essentials in life, whether they be a nurse or a lavatory cleaner. This is not incompatible with promoting the best education and training to enable those who have the motivation and the ability to enjoy added benefits. But in a decent society the level of those added benefits is not enhanced by cynically impoverishing the least able and consequently least powerful.

  32. hettyforindy says:

    Excellent article, shocking, but not surprising at the new slavery taking place in UKOK. If we are voted out of the EU, the yoons will have free rein, (reign!) to do what the hell they want, and they will punish Scotland even more.

    Just as an aside, but related, I know of 2 people who work for public sector bodies.
    Things are not good in many ways, if they are off ill, even one day they are called in for a wee chat, if longer they are called in for an ‘ interview’, threatened with points against them, disciplined even. Sometimes it amounts to bullying by those in a higher position, it’s not good for morale, or the workers’ mental health.

    UKOK is already fascist, and Scotland needs out before it’s too late, if it’s not already.

  33. You caught my eye from the git-go and held my attention. Great read.

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