Work is one of the big things missing from this general election. Sure, there are passing references to the strength of the economy and full employment but nothing about the way we work or should work. After all work is where we spend most of our lives; where we make our living, where we meet many of our friends; and gives us both most satisfaction when it goes right and most cause of stress when it goes wrong. Yet silence reigns.
The job contract is essentially economic. The consensus is that if there is a demand for labour, workers should be hired; if they become surplus to requirements, they should be fired. This is strange for a number of reasons. We all know what a good job looks like – and most of us want one. We should have as much autonomy and control over what we do as possible and be fairly paid; it should be conducive to making friends; we should not work crazy hours; and we should have the chance to express our opinion about how it is organised and be heard.
The evidence is that if we work like this we get more done. You would have thought the political parties would see mileage in at least talking about such issues.
Take Labour’s initiative on training. In two years’ time every adult worker in the UK aged between 16 and 64 will be entitled to take time off work with their wages paid by the government to acquire five GCSEs at A*-C grades, or an equivalent vocational diploma. On the latest estimates that means up to eight million people will have the chance in later life to acquire qualifications they failed to get at school. It is the biggest remedial education and training initiative ever launched in the UK and possibly in Europe. It will transform the lives of millions, yet I don’t suppose more than one person in a thousand knows about it.
Then take the introduction last month of rules to guide the process of informing and consulting at organisational level. Every organisation in the UK with more than 2,000 workers must inform and consult them about strategic decisions that affect the workplace. For the first time ever in the UK, workers are to be formally included in the decision-making process about what happens at work.
Take the Operating and Financial Review. From this financial year on, each quoted company has to publish a report alongside its annual report and accounts, setting out its policies on workforce development, pay and reward, diversity and discrimination, and trade union recognition, as well as its approach to the environment, community and ethical trading. You might think it is a small thing, but what companies publish and measure they also start to value; they will want to do well in the league tables – one more incentive to treat their workforces with respect.
Yet on these three major changes – and others – nothing but silence. Making work better should be a major campaign platform for all political parties. The fact that it is not says everything about what political parties, the media and, ultimately, we the electorate mistakenly think is more important.