Unions can help IT staff get a life

• In response to the points made by Robert Ingram in “Staff exploitation can’t be blamed on IT, says expert” (27 June), I agree that it is possible to see IT as a “liberator” in that you can now work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if you care to.

Studies and anecdotal evidence across Europe, however, suggest that where companies move away from some notion of working hours to a project-based concept of working time, staff tend to work longer and longer hours. The pressure to complete the project increases, or the more subtle pressure of wanting to get the results in ahead of the next man, all take their toll.

In Germany, the largest union IG Metall has campaigned on this issue among IT staff for some time, with the slogan “Work without end?” to demonstrate there is more to life than work. This appears to be attracting more staff from the IT sector to join.

In the UK, the range of IT work covers the whole spectrum from leading edge applications research to Call Center routine. The former may well be mentally stimulating and rewarding, whereas the latter may be repetitive in the extreme and could hardly be described as liberating.

Ingram is right in saying that it is employers who exploit their workforce, not the technology. But IT allows for radically new methods of working which, if not checked by the humanising intervention of unions, could lead to unregulated pressure on staff.

Although the new world of IT does not appear to gel with old-style industrial relations, there is still a huge job for unions to do, albeit working to a new agenda. As UK union membership has started to increase again, it seems that their value is being recognised again, even by IT staff.

Graham Briggs,

Head, Info Com Unit


Frivolous claims need filtering out

• I was pleased to read that the Government is considering a shake-up that would force people with a weak tribunal case to pay a much larger deposit.

During 1999 I dealt with six tribunal cases. All were successfully defended by the company – one case taking many hours to prepare and lasting at pre-hearing less than an hour.

For small to medium-sized companies that rely on the HR manager to defend the company, the costs in time and resources is enormous. Any measures to filter out frivolous claims would be welcomed.

Ann Burton

HR manager

24seven Vending

Pizza deal refers to waiting staff

• Thank you for your editorial coverage of the new staff benefits PizzaExpress has introduced (4 July), but I would like to clarify a point not made clear by your headline or first paragraph in the story “Minimum pay for all”.

It is correct to say that as an organisation we are introducing the new increased minimum wage three months ahead of schedule and scrapping the difference in rates of pay for those under 22. However, it should be made clear that the increased rate of £3.70 relates only to waiting staff. The headline seems to suggest that it relates to all staff regardless of their job. This is not the case.

Different pay rates relate to different jobs within our restaurants – starting from waiting staff up to chefs and restaurant managers. All levels of staff will benefit from the raft of package improvements, which will be rolled-out in its entirety over the next 18 months.

These improvements have been applauded by staff who, via the newly established Employee Forum, have played a key role in devising the new deal.

Nick Taylor

HR director


Talk yourself into a flexible pattern

• I was interested to read the results of the survey quoted in your article on flexible working patterns (4 July). While I was not surprised at the results and agreed with most of the comments made, I think that a key issue has been overlooked.

It is as much the mindset of the employee as it is the employer as to how flexible working can function effectively. If an employee truly wants flexible working patterns then they should present themselves to employers on that basis. If the employee is clearly the best person, even the most unsophisticated employer can be creative in their thinking.

I have two small children and have worked part-time for the last seven years for three different organisations – one large public sector organisation, one large consulting firm and one small start-up company.

All the jobs were full-time positions but I managed to make a case to do each of them on a three-days-a-week basis. If you do not ask how, do you know you will not get?

Kay Baldwin-Evans

SkillSoft International

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