Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Minimum Wage

How predictable. There have not only been calls to freeze the minimum wage, but also to allow businesses to pay their employees less than the minimum wage because of current economic problems. My blood pressure was going through the roof yesterday when I heard a UKIP politician on Radio 2 calling for businesses to be allowed to pay below the National Minimum Wage!

So, the cause of the current recession has been the National Minimum Wage then? Here I was thinking it had something to do with bankers, politicians, greed and the flaws of capitalism...
It is at times like this the injustice of the system becomes even more stark. There is a rich and powerful elite running this world, and then there are the rest of us. They – the bankers, business people and world ‘leaders’ - make a mess of running things, and everybody else has to pay for their failures. And it is usually the least well off and the least powerful who have to pay the most.

Let us never forget why the National Minimum Wage (NMW) was introduced in the first place. It was because many employers, left to their own devices, paid disgustingly low wages. Many people were being exploited by businesses, as they tried to keep running costs as low as possible. The introduction of the NMW is one of the few things I will praise the Labour Government for. It is a measure that has cross-party support (even the Tories don’t suggest scrapping it now/yet) and that is progress that should never be surrendered – especially not in times of economic turmoil.

Even at the current level, I still don’t think the NMW is high enough. It is no coincidence that those you hear arguing against increases earn substantially more than £5.73 an hour.
People are not mere entities whose purpose is to serve the economy; the economy is here to serve people. If a system is not delivering for people (all the people) then it is not working, and we need to look at alternatives.

Some tough choices will need to be taken in a recession, but reducing the income of the lowest paid should never be an option in attempting to keep businesses afloat. Perhaps those at the other end of the income scale should be asked to contribute more in these tough times? I have another couple of suggestions too. How about scrapping the UK’s immoral and outrageously expensive nuclear weapons and abandoning plans for useless ID cards? As I said, there are few things I would praise the UK Labour Government for and even those achievements are undermined by their continued investment in weapons of mass destruction and by spending billions on an illegal war in Iraq.

I think it is highly unlikely that the NMW will be suspended for any length of time, but I also hope the UK Government will commit to the next scheduled increase. People need the money more than ever now.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

NHS uniforms

I'm not a fan of simply posting up Scottish Government press releases, but I will make an exception for this one.

Nicola Sturgeon has announced a new dress code for the NHS, which is partly for hygiene reasons. The new code also states that staff should not be wearing their uniforms outwith their place of work. Frankly, I am baffled as to why NHS staff have ever been allowed to! There are clear implications for hygiene.

I remember, many moons ago, when the Scottish Ambulance Service issued new uniforms. When I was wee my Dad used to head off to work in a tailored pair of navy trousers, a light blue shirt, navy tie and navy jumper. This ensemble was washed and ironed at home. Then came along the bright green boiler suits that we are all familiar with. They were not popular with ambulance staff to begin with (they are not at all flattering on anyone), but everyone saw how much more practical they are. All of my Dad's uniforms are also now washed at the ambulance station.

There are also different colours of boiler suits for different jobs within the ambulance service too.

All in all, I think this is great news for the NHS. I think part of the reason that Nicola makes such a fantastic Health Secretary is her capacity for common sense - she gets what the rest of us see, even if some other politicians can't see the wood for the trees sometimes. Nicola's relentless focus on improving hospital hygiene will, I think, transform the NHS. She has one of the most difficult jobs in Scotland, not just Scottish politics. But she is certainly up to the job!