Unpaid Jobs – The Abnormal becomes Normal.

A friend posted the following on his facebook page.

Unpaid jobs: The New Normal?

March 25, 2011 12:33 pm

While businesses are generally wary of the risks of using unpaid labor, companies that have used free workers say it can pay off when done right.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE — With nearly 14 million unemployed workers in America, many have gotten so desperate that they’re willing to work for free. While some businesses are wary of the legal risks and supervision such an arrangement might require, companies that have used free workers say it can pay off when done right.

“People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they’re going to outperform, they’re going to try to please, they’re going to be creative,” says Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist, a Toronto and New York-based startup that provides Web-based interior design services. “From a cost savings perspective, to get something off the ground, it’s huge. Especially if you’re a small business.”

And, thus begins the latest onslaught against conditions and rights.

I remember, several years ago, watching an item on ABC News (with Dan Rather).  ABC used to be shown on TV 3 late at night in opposition to BBC World, which was being shown on TVNZ.  The item in question detailed the problems of a US based software firm which was being undercut by its competitors in India.  The firm’s profit margins were being severely squeezed and there was a danger of it being forced into liquidation.  The owners of the firm hit on an ‘ingenious’ idea to save it.  This was to lower employee’s wages, thereby making them competitive with the Indian based company.  ABC interviewed some of the employees and the owners who testified as to the beneficial effects this was having.  Several months later, I was watching ABC and learnt that the firm had gone out of business. It appeared that the competing firm in India had simply lowered their wages further.  The moral of this sordid tale was that you cannot compete against firms in developing nations which pay their workers food.

It could be argued that this is merely the next step in this progress.  Simply, why should you pay your workers at all? Currently, Federal and state laws in the US (and in other developed countries) prohibit this sort of action.  Workers undertaking specific tasks and roles are paid. There are laws guaranteeing them such.  But there has been a recent tendency in some US states to look at rolling back some of these collective rights, such as in Wisconsin, where the Republican Governor and Congress have repealed the rights of workers to collectively bargain.  If one can do that, why not simply pass a law providing for volunteer work in certain areas or on certain days.  You could additionally argue that the current world recession could bring upon the need for such action.

Certainly some employers and industrialists would argue that such action would actually help workers by allowing them to work.  Being the benign and progressive souls that they are, these employers are providing workers with employment, experience and, more importantly, self worth, in an ever competitive workplace.

Before people laugh, similar policies have actually occurred before.  In 1991, the New Democratic Party (NDP) provincial Government in Ontario, Canada implemented a series of economic and social policies designed to halt the growing recession in the province.  This included cost cutting, privatisation and the introduction of what were know as ‘Rae Days’ named after the NDP Premier, Bob Rae. Rae imposed a wage freeze and then legislatively forced civil servants (including teachers, doctors, nurses, etc.) to take ten days off without pay per year.

What Rae did is, of course, different to making workers work with no pay, but in the midst of a recession with high unemployment, a case could be made to do so, as it appears to be in this article.

Essentially, what is being suggested is a modern form of slavery.

However, it may not prove to be in anyone’s economic interest to introduce such a policy.  The reason for that is because the one thing that actually doomed traditional slavery in the United Kingdom and in the US Civil war was that it was actually economically inefficient.  (This is aside from the moral aspect). It was actually more efficient and productive to pay your workers.  But, this issue is not just about paying people, it is about who holds the economic and political power.

Lastly, one also notes that it is not the Captains of Industry who will be forgoing wages or salaries.  It will be left, as of always, to those on the lower ranks of society to do so.



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