The Greater London Co-ordinating Committee website

The Greater London Co-ordinating Committee (GLCoord) consists of the three union branches of the Communications and Digital (C&D) Sector in Prospect which serve members in the Greater London area. We represent members working in companies who do not have recognition agreements with Prospect as well as members actively seeking work even if not currently employed.  You can join Prospect on line via thier website. If you wish to find out more you can contact any Branch Principal Officer via thier email address.

Benefits of being Registered -- Across this whole website some articles are only available to registered users, if you are member of the union register if not apply to join and then register - you know it makes sense.

The changes in ways of working, and particularly of course home working, have accelerated changes in work and employment patterns, and it is clear that that genie is not going to be back in the bottle. Your branches are discussing how trades unions (and in particular Prospect) can themselves adapt to – and hopefully influence beneficially - those changes, and there is a discussion paper which we hope will stimulate input into the branch discussions. Ron Haas writes:

Mass vaccination may reduce the current pandemic to such an extent that working in office accommodation provided by the employer could become the contractual norm once more. However, it is already clear the home working will play a vastly greater role than hitherto, partly because employees will want this to happen and partly due to the cost reduction made possible for businesses by vacating office blocks, which are often situated in expensive city centres. What is far from clear at the moment is the extent of what may become a major change in many people’s working lives and companies’ ways of operating.

The benefits of increased home working need to be weighed against the disadvantages. Clearly, reduced commuting to work brings cost and time savings to the employee. It also introduces the possibility of living somewhere quite remote from the workplace an employer provides, enabling cost-of living reduction and quality of life enhancement - introducing a brave new world for many. Already, some employers have told their staff not to come to the employer-provided workplace at all if they don’t want to, whilst others have called for only one or two days attendance per week in the workplace.

office work 1149087 1920Working from home is often inconvenient due to lack of suitable space, home life distractions, cost of extra heating, lack of subsidised canteen facilities, need to claim for expenses such as for postage and stationery, as well as extra work purchasing and handling office furniture, equipment, office supplies, etc. There is also the risk of accidents and injuries that would count as Health & Safety issues if they occurred in the workplace. Under current tax rules, if any room in a residential property is 100% devoted to non-residential purposes, a Capital Gains Tax liability arises on disposal of the property, usually on a proportional basis, such as, say, 1 room out of 5 bedrooms generating tax liability on one fifth of the capital gain. This can be prevented by ensuring that at least some purely domestic activity takes place in the work room on a frequent basis, eg the cat or dog sleeps there or it contains a cupboard full of laundry.

Also, the employer looses output, certainly, in terms of quality, if not quantity, where home working cuts down on employee interaction – indeed, largely to the extent of abolishing informal, spontaneous contact, that for some businesses is a major source of economic progress. Not all employers attach much importance to this, however, as was instanced when, in the 1990s, BT prevented informal contact in many cases, other than by phone or email, between staff working on different floors of the same office building. The excuse was that such contact was a security threat. That paranoia didn't stop BT from later buying Huawei kit from China, though, thereby putting GEC/Marconi out of business – not that STC or Plessey fared much better.

So, is the demise of the city centre office landlord imminent? Not so, says Gerald Kaye, CEO of Helical, which owns office blocks in London and Manchester. He cites the disadvantages of working from home – inadequate ergonomics, lack of division between work and home life, lack of space, mental health issues and reduced productivity arising from physical isolation from work colleagues. Is he just trying to talk up his company’s share price on the basis of super dividends to come, when really, demand for its services is about to collapse?

A few employers have called for staff to take a pay cut in return for much reduced workplace attendance, arguing that employees can save more than the cut by living further away, where there are far cheaper places to live. Extreme cases have already arisen with employees opting to live abroad, even if their attendance in the UK is required occasionally. There is also evidence of businesses choosing to apply the converse, by moving their company registrations and boardrooms abroad whilst employing home-working staff in the UK.

skyscraper 4013344 1920In all of this, Alphabet, which owns Google, is an interesting case. In July 2020, Google told its UK employees to work from home for the next 12 months. Meanwhile, it has expanded its central London office space, not only with its new £1 billion headquarters due for completion in 2022 at Kings Cross, but also by extending its existing lease for a further 10 years near Tottenham Court Road tube station and acquiring 8-year leases on 2 further buildings in the Kings Cross area. So, will its London employees be able to work from home to any extent from 2022 onwards? Possibly not, unless Alphabet finds the UK corporation tax regime becoming more onerous than at present, with Alphabet/Google currently paying peanuts compared with its UK turnover. It would seem that this monster multinational corporation is simply hedging its bets. If it turns out to be advantageous tax-wise, it can simply move itself elsewhere, leaving its UK employees behind, working remotely. Furthermore, if the disposing of surplus office buildings becomes a problem, no doubt these can be converted to residential flats of whatever quality is deemed most profitable. There is, after all, a housing shortage in London.

It is possible to visualise an employer having just a single small head office, with almost all employees working from anywhere in the world where there is good internet access. The main limitation is that widely differing time zones make spontaneous inter-communication difficult. Apart from that, the enormous change this practice will bring about is that the jobs market will become truly internationalised. That, in turn, means an end to any need for work permits in the financial and service economic sectors and in the financial and service operations of all other sectors – all office and other non-manufacturing work, such as designing, writing software, etc. The advent of three-dimensional printing even cuts the geographically restricted component of manufacturing in this respect. Imagine engineering components being printed under the direct control of a human sitting in a different country. It’s not quite that simple, however. We are familiar with call centres having been out-sourced to India to cut costs. It wasn’t the final answer, generating intense consumer pressure on the basis that such call centres simply were not properly integrated with the service provider’s business in this country.

However, for non-customer-facing activities, the internationalisation of employment does carry the risk of creating its own ‘race to the bottom’. Furthermore, how do you negotiate pay rates with an employer which has employees scattered across multiple countries? Failing to meet this challenge will restrict unions to those economic sectors that are tied down geographically – manufacturing (well, at least part of it), government, hospitals, schools, hotels, distribution – that will continue to operate locked in geographically. Trade unions will have to adapt to this existential challenge by merging across countries. The threat may not be immediate, but already in the medium term it will become serious.

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The article by Calvin Allen in his blog is relevant and very interetsing -- https://calvinsdomain.wordpress.com/2020/12/31/clocking-big-tech-the-fight-to-own-your-data/

UNI Global union has carried out extensive work on the subject -- http://www.thefutureworldofwork.org/

 

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