STU PETERS: Be more flexible to keep working

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Around 100 bus drivers are allegedly sharing the thick end of a million pounds a year in overtime payments.

If the figure is correct and my arithmetic has improved, that’s about ten grand each or £200 a week on top of the basic salary, which one caller to Talking Heads suggested was already the best in Europe.

Two thoughts came to mind – the first that it’s ridiculous in this frugal day and age to pay people extra for doing the same job but on a different day, even if it nominally considered The Lord’s Day. And the second was a smiling nod to the staff and unions who have negotiated such apparently agreeable terms.

The whole debate raises the issue of outdated working practices in the 21st century. I’m reasonably pragmatic about these things, and have concluded that the next couple of years are likely to be pretty miserable for most of us with no prospect of pay even keeping pace with inflation (soaring petrol and energy costs have already rubbed in the salt of higher VAT), so I expect to feel a significant pinch. A personal critical path analysis (done without the need for expert consultants) concludes that my own medium term objective is to just stay in work if at all possible and keep my head down (you have to do that to have a hope of keeping your nose to the grindstone).

But it also seems that there are lots of workplace ‘customs and practices’ that would probably fail close and overdue scrutiny. It’s nice that in the days of wine and roses people were allowed to enhance their pay, perks and conditions, but surely that can’t continue unchallenged without laying people off to pay for the extras as budgets are cut.

I think common sense is needed. If your job could conceivably require you to work late shifts, or at the weekend, then you can’t really expect extra pay unless you work additional hours. I don’t think the justification ‘we’ve always done it that way’ is going to hold water in the future.

And whilst the ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy has some merit, I think most taxpayers would agree that public service spending needs to be brought more into line with the ‘real world’ and outdated working practices need to be reviewed.

Another accusation thrown at the DCCL (the government department responsible for buses and trains) is that it’s top heavy with management, and yet another part of our bloated public service sector with more chiefs than injuns.

Minister Cretney has promised an independent report (from expensive consultants no doubt) to see if that’s true, but a cursory glance at most government structures certainly makes it appear that way. I’m wary of jumping to conclusions without more evidence though – it’s too easy to look at something from the outside and not understand why things are done the way they are.

Before anyone says ‘it’s alright for you’, I’m available for work 24/7 and don’t get paid any extra for working regular Saturday nights or the occasional Sunday. Neither do I get a penny piece in overtime for working on Christmas Day or any other public holiday – but my employers play fair and give me time off in lieu. Since all that any of us really have to swap for a pay packet is our time, that’s fine by me.

That’s maybe the key to this – flexible working and a common desire to do the best we can for each other in changing times. People keep banging on about the need for savage cuts in government staff, but any alternative would surely be preferable to forced redundancies.

What we really need, as ever, is leadership by example rather than the more usual ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude of too many politicians and bosses.

When not skiving off work early because he hosted a Mannin Line in 2002, Stu presents Talking Heads each weekday lunchtime on Manx Radio. Call in on 661368, text 166177 and follow the programme on Facebook and Twitter.

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