Agency work to go at Mini-plant

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Apparently BMW-Mini are to make 850 workers redundant at their plant in Cowley, Oxford – and the workers bearing the brunt of the layoffs will be agency workers.

Of course, it’s better to have a changed shift pattern, lower production and some redundancies now than for production to carry on and the firm to go bust within the year. Every job loss is tragic, but some are sometimes justifiable if it means keeping a firm going and not having widespread capital scrapping and huge unemployment when firms gog under after desparately trying to carry on regardless in a recession. This isn’t necessarily the firm’s fault.

What I can’t condone, however, is the increasingly arbitrary distinction between permanent and agency workers. In the BBC report linked to above, one agency worker says that he has worked at the plant for three and a half years, working side-by-side with permanent employees. And yet, when it comes to lay-off time, they are the first out.

What this has led to is an increase in the size of the temporary and agency work force – because firms can treat these workers differently, and they have fewer rights than permanent staff, thousands of workers are being denied the security of permanent contracts because firms prefer the “flexibility” of being able to deny their workers the full range of rights to which a permanent staff member is entitled by law.

We could argue around the houses for ages as to whether the firm can be morally judged for this – they would argue that it is within their legal rights (which it is), while the workers and their supporters would argue that their legal rights do not necessarily contain their more nebulous moral obligations in their entirety (or something like that).

There is a wider discussion to be had about whether something legal can be immoral; however, when it comes to the economy, there is always an incentive for a firm to do the most they can within the law to maximize their profit. Otherwise, for all of their good intentions, they will see their profit eroded by less scrupulous competitors.

What this points to, clearly, is legislation to protect these workers – to ensure that all firms are on a level playing field when deciding how to treat their workers. Deciding how to treat workers on the basis of their worth, not on the technicalities of their contract, shouldn’t be at the mercy of competitive advantage.

Workers at the Cowley plant may be heartened to discover that the local MP, Andrew Smith (who gets the thumbs up from all at Paintbrush Towers), supported the Private Members Bill last year to provide extended rights for temporary and agency workers. We can only hope that, as the recession deepens, the government will look again at this issue.

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4 Responses to “Agency work to go at Mini-plant”

  1. captainjako Says:

    Look at Smithy gazing adoringly upon Gordo.

  2. captainjako Says:

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that the angry workers have been throwing fruit at their managers
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/feb/16/bmw-mini-job-cuts

  3. Captain Jako Says:

    The Beeb is reporting that fruit was thrown at union officials
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/7894048.stm

  4. Morning(ish) roundup, Tuesday 17th February 2009 - Common Endeavour Says:

    […] comrades at Frank Owen’s Paintbrush on Mini and the plight of agency workers (and their Valentine’s special on Ramsay MacDonald is well […]

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