Penny-pinching and sheer bloodymindedness has been the response of some bosses towards workers stranded abroad due to the recent volcanic ash cloud. “Act of god” or not, they want to dock workers’ pay.
During the heavy snowfalls of 2008/9 and 2009/10, employers all over the UK docked pay from workers prevented from getting to work, prompting RMT general secretary Bob Crow to refer to them as “throwbacks to the worst excesses of the Victorian mill-owners.”
That statement was closer to the mark than the meek official response from the TUC to the volcanic ash crisis. They comment: “it seems unfair if people lost money because of a situation which is out of their control.”
The attempt by bosses to shift onto workers the financial costs of a circumstance completely outside of human control is more than simply “unfair”. It is a small but clear demonstration of the twisted anti-human logic of capitalism. Profits are everything, people’s rights are nothing.
A spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses said, “the whole situation could cost businesses a lot of money and employers generally take the view that pay is given for work that is actually done.” No matter, then, that the work was not done for reasons the workers couldn’t possibly have foreseen or controlled, and no matter that the super-rich bosses can obviously far better afford to take the financial hit than their necessarily lower-paid employees. All that matters is that docking workers’ pay is the easiest way to mitigate the damage.
Unions should fight not only for all work days missed through circumstances such as this to be paid, but for a system of absence and sick pay policies that take workers’ rights — and not the bosses’ profits — as their starting point.