What the sector can learn from the G4S debacle
The failure of G4S to fulfil its contract is occupying most of the headlines as we bowl headlong towards the Olympic opening ceremony. Within the story are tales of inadequate training and inappropriate working conditions. Watching the television news, potential candidates for roles with G4S look very young. Strikingly so.
These are temporary positions in security at the Olympics, recruited at the last minute in order to save money. Most of the people applying for these roles can only expect to get four weeks work from them, then they’ll be back to signing on.
The G4S debacle is a stark illustration of an economy full of fixed-term, temporary, low-paid jobs with poor training. If these are the jobs being offered to young people, what view are they forming of what a good, secure job looks like?
We are in dangerous territory if young people don’t even recognise that the conditions they are being asked to work under are unacceptable, or they simply don’t expect to get a better deal. Maybe they fear losing a job it took them months to find.
It’s also emerged that the cleaning company with the main contract for the Olympic Park, is housing its mostly foreign cleaning staff in bunk bed dormitories with up to 75 sharing a shower and then charging them for the accommodation. That’s quite a step on from requiring workers to pay for the uniform they are obliged to wear during work hours.
Dignity in work is disappearing. If these are the conditions available in entry-level employment, who would choose it? What incentive is there to work at all? Everything those of us who are slightly longer of tooth took for granted – regular and limited hours, good levels of pay, safety at work, fair treatment – is not on offer for those that follow behind us.
It’s called the ‘flexible workforce’ but it means cheap, disposable labour and exploitation. There are too many part-time jobs and too many ‘zero hours’ contracts, too many unreasonable shift-patterns and not enough protection at work.
So, what can the third sector do about it?
We must offer work placements, volunteering experiences and jobs that show young people that it is possible to work without being exploited, that there is dignity in a working life and that they should expect to be treated fairly and well in their job. Equally, they should work in a safe environment and not be put at risk from overwork or dangerous conditions.
We should reflect on our heritage of campaigning for safety at work, fair pay and limited working hours. It is in the DNA of the charitable and trade union sector. And it is our responsibility to carry that inheritance forward, ensuring that the opportunities we offer to our young people, provide dignity and fairness at work.
If we must model it for the über-corporations, then so be it.