Having trouble making ends meet?
So many people today feel that their financial security is in jeopardy.
Costs are rising in all areas, especially for essential utilities like electricity and water, as well as for council rates.
Are prices in our supermarkets and the places we buy our food and household essentials really going “down, down, prices are down”? (Sorry, but you have to watch Australian commercial TV to understand this Australian in-joke.) For some items perhaps, but many keep going up, up, prices are up.
But have your wages and salaries gone up with the cost of living?
Well, unless you are lucky enough to be the CEO of a major corporation (or a politician in Queensland) the answer is probably no. And possibly any wage rises you have had recently don’t go very far at all in compensating for the price rises you are experiencing.
The austerity drives of the Queensland Government have slashed about 14,000 public service positions, with another round apparently still to come. Ford is to close its Australian car manufacturing in 2016. And those are only the two most obvious recent examples.
Whether you are employed by a large concern or a small one, you may be worried that your job may be under threat.
Or you may be asked to take on more and more work for the same pay.
Furphy No 1: The Productivity Question
Productivity is on the lips of Australia’s conservatives once again.
Austerity (and – apparently – hypocrisy) is not only the province of the conservative government in Queensland. You will no doubt recall a certain mining magnate, who happens to be the richest woman in the world, last year lamenting Australians’ work ethic and expectations of high wages which make it difficult for companies such as hers to compete with some overseas companies using virtual slave labour: “… Africans want to work, and its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day”.
It may have been true at some time in our history, but since I’ve been working – well over 30 years – I’ve never noticed my work colleagues, or other workers slacking off. From what I’ve observed, especially in recent years, most workers in Australia put in a conscientious day’s work, often uncomplainingly doing unpaid overtime, particularly when the pressure’s on. For most of the last decade, Australians have worked more hours per year than any other well-established economy in the Western world (not Greece and Italy, but, well…).
1 in 6 Australian employees work more than 49 hours a week. Some are working much longer hours. Many employees take work home at nights and on weekends and consider themselves contactable by mobile for work purposes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Conversely, many Australians who want to work longer hours are chronically under-employed.
And yet this myth survives and is regularly trotted out that we are lazy and our productivity is poor. And it’s the Gina Rineharts and people of a certain political persuasion that keep bringing this up.
Well I suppose, compared to African mine workers ….
Furphy No 2: We’re not making enough profit
While it is clear that it is a necessity for a business to make profits (being in business myself), particularly in the case of large corporations, it seems that the understanding of the term profit has changed dramatically in the last 30 years or so.
Once upon a time a firm was doing well if it made a good profit each year, or even most years. But since the 1980s the expectation of senior management and shareholders seems to be that firms must make RECORD PROFITS every year. Some of our major corporations such as banks seem to have so internalised this expectation, that shareholders and boards demand explanations and plot management coups when this is not so. But at a certain point, it simply becomes impossible to sustain such growth. It’s like the productivity furphy – eventually 100% of potential is 100% of potential, despite this present-day idiotic trend of “demanding efforts of 110%”.
You cannot fudge simple mathematics. No matter how much you’re trying to butter someone up.
Almost invariably, when profits do not live up to expectation, the answer is a downsizing of the workforce and demands for greater productivity from employees. Of course the multi-million dollar salaries plus perks of the CEOs go unquestioned, especially it seems when the CEO has put in a noticeably poor performance.
So it’s up to the minions to make the sacrifices, as is the way of history. But I often wonder, how much more efficient can one get, if you are already working capacity hours – and even taking work home?
People are not machines that can be run in three shifts, 24 hours a day. Without breaks at key times of the workday, and at a certain endpoint in a day’s work, efficiency drops off. We cannot keep working long hours and extra days in the week without affecting both efficiency and health.
The Europeans recognised this in the last decades of the 20th Century and shortened their working weeks. But about the same time, the Americans discovered Japanese corporate management styles and they went in the opposite direction. And of course, whatever the Americans do, we have to do.
And so we are where we are today.
As a result, many people have decided over the last decade or so that the stress of working within this system is not worth the threat to their health, sanity or family life.
To the dictionary of compound words dedicated to late 20th Century business, words like downsizing, they have added the term downshifting – giving up the corporate slippery slide, and opting for work with lower expectations, often combined with a sea-change or a tree-change – moving to a less stressful community somewhere on the coast or in the country.
The new Cottage Industries?
To effect these changes, a new variation of an old way of working has been resurrected.
Many people feel that they are simply no longer willing to put up with unreasonable demands at work, with the uncertainty of possible redundancy, and the whims of people above them in the hierarchy. They want to take their work destiny in their own hands.
The term ‘cottage industry’ describes the old village type work situation where a person would set up a business, probably in the ground floor of their house, and the family would live in the floors above.
There is a new variation on cottage industries occurring today as more and more people today look for ways to earn money from home, and especially methods to make money online. The rapid progress of technology since the 1990s has made this a more than viable option for many. Indeed, many people have made literally millions from the Internet, while working from a home base.