Posts tagged "OK"

Can I fly with a clear conscience? | Ethical living

I’d like to travel by plane, but it seems iniquitous that air fares are so low. Can you offer me any reasons why I might fly with a clear conscience?

It is time for the aviation industry to pay the ferryman. Hitherto flying has soared above climate change regulation but from 30 April 2013 the EU dictates that it must sign up to emissions trading. In common with other heavily polluting industries, this means putting a cap on CO² emissions for planes arriving or departing from EU airports. Airlines would trade in pollution permits on an aviation carbon market. The theory is that fleets that are low carbon would be rewarded and this would incentivise airlines to invest in eco-friendly fleets.

OK, so this is no tax on aviation fuel and there’s plenty of turbulence to come – industry lobbyists are battling like fury to water down legislation, and outside the EU some carriers are refusing to report their emissions. (Preposterously, China claims dispensation on account of being a developing country.) But the fact that the aviation industry is being made to act like other massive energy consumers (US commercial airlines burn about 50m gallons of kerosene per day) may offer you comfort.

It’s true, this industry can be hard to love. Traditionally it’s countered criticism by provoking “hairy environmentalists” (so termed by Michael O’Leary of Ryanair) or by pleading that air travel contributes just 2% of greenhouse gas emissions. Critics contend that this doesn’t factor in radiative forcing: at altitude, the negative effects of burning kerosene are amplified to the power of three.

Let’s be fair: there has been some eco innovation. Aircraft have been updated for more efficient models. Check each airline to get the “environmental” sell on its fleets (the newer the better). But gains in fuel efficiency can only go so far. Some airlines, notably BA and Virgin, have switched attention to alternative fuel sources, meaning biofuels. Virgin Atlantic flew a plane to Amsterdam in 2008 with one engine using a proportion of coconut oil and babassu nuts; other airlines have used jatropha oil and even algae, upping the biofuel content in each flight. Butit’s still a tiny proportion of aviation fuel, and where will land-based crops be grown? On land needed for food?

Despite so many unanswered questions, even climate-change protestors seem to fly these days (I note some picked up their boarding passes after the Copenhagen climate change negotiations collapsed. Was this the ultimate display of kick-the-planet frustration?). Unfortunately there is still no such thing as an eco jetsetter.

Green crush: Levi’s Water

As eco fashion took some time to cast off its sackcloth image, there may be mixed feelings about the return of the eco-friendly dungaree. Following its Water

Greenspeak: Farmageddon {fähr-muh-gedd-en} noun

The term protestors are using for government plans to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board, which sets minimum wages for Britain’s 154,000 farm workers. They fear this will leave many in poverty.

If you have an ethical dilemma, send an email to Lucy at [email protected] or visit guardian.co.uk/profile/lucysiegle to read all her articles in one place


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Posted by admin - November 18, 2012 at 09:24

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Feeling fleeced over TK Maxx discount

I discovered that the RRP for a garment I bought was actually £40 when the store had stated it was £60 on its label

I recently bought a fleece from TK Maxx, which prides itself on “big labels at small prices”. On the TK Maxx label it gives a recommended retail price, RRP, and a discounted “Our price”. When I got home I found the original Crew Clothing Co. label still attached to the garment stating its RRP price had been £40. TK Maxx had given a RRP price of £60. Is it OK for TK Maxx to make up its own RRP? LH, Norfolk

Well spotted! We sent TK Maxx a copy of the offending label and it admits its error. In a statement, it says: “Transparency and integrity are critical to our business and our relationship with our customers. We have stringent requirements and expectations around how our buyers establish the correct RRP. That said, with up to 10,000 new items going through every store every week, the occasional one-off error can be made.” TK Maxx has apologised to you directly and sent you a £40 gift card to cover the value of fleece.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at [email protected] or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number.


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Posted by admin - November 10, 2012 at 09:30

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Love across the divide

Stephen Gault saw his Protestant father killed by an IRA bomb at Enniskillen 25 years ago. Joanna Moorhead meets him and his wife, Sharon – who is Catholic

A moment after the blast hit them, Stephen Gault knew his father was dead. Seconds earlier they had been standing side by side in the street chatting. Now they were lying on the ground, pressed up against some railings.

“The top of Dad’s head wasn’t there any more,” says Stephen. “I knew he had gone.”

The time was 10.45am, the date was 8 November 1987 – Remembrance Sunday – and the place was the cenotaph in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

Stephen’s family were Protestants. Both his parents were in the security forces – his father, Samuel, who was 49, had retired two years earlier from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and his mother, Gladys, then 47, was a serving member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Suddenly, at 18, Stephen was fatherless.

His life, and those of his family, had been ripped apart by an IRA bomb.

Stephen is now 43. The injuries he suffered that day mean he is in almost constant pain and is unable to work. At this time of year, as Remembrance Day gets closer, he tends to feel much worse, physically and psychologically. This year, as the 25th anniversary approaches, he’s been even harder hit than usual.

But there’s one bright light in Stephen’s life – his wife, Sharon. “She’s the most loving, caring woman in the world,” says Stephen. “She’s bubbly and warm, and I’m so lucky to have her.” But Sharon, 32, is also a Roman Catholic and making their marriage work across the religious divide of Northern Ireland has been a kind of microcosm of the peace process that has changed the face of the province in the years since that day in Enniskillen when 11 people were killed and 63 were injured.

Stephen doesn’t remember exactly when he discovered that the young woman he had met at the town golf club was a Catholic. The funny thing was, he says, that his mother was beginning to despair that he’d ever find anyone at all. “I was in my early 30s, still living at home. After Dad died, Mum was alone, and I knew I had to be there for her. But she was desperate for me to meet someone. She used to joke that she wouldn’t even mind if I found myself a Catholic.”

For her part, Sharon had no idea of the history of the man she was getting close to. “I was born in the south of Ireland, and at the time of the bombing I was living in Surrey,” she says. “We moved to Enniskillen in 1991 because it’s where my mum came from – I remember our friends in England thought we were mad because everyone knew how bad the Troubles were.”

In Enniskillen, Sharon enrolled at a Catholic school. “The communities were quite separate, so most of the people I knew were Catholics,” she says. After school she got a job with a fashion retailer, but when a friend asked her to help with her catering business at the golf club, she was happy to lend a hand. “That’s where I first met Stephen,” she remembers.

As their relationship progressed, she learned that his father was dead but didn’t know the circumstances. “I suppose everyone just assumed I knew and Stephen never talked about it. I went home to meet his mother, Gladys, and she was lovely.

“One day, when we’d been going out for a couple of months, he said, did you know I was standing beside my dad when he died? I thought it must have been a traffic accident; but then he mentioned the cenotaph and suddenly it all clicked into place.”

She says she’s glad, though, that she didn’t know about Stephen’s history when they were first together. “I think I might have overcompensated for being a Catholic, especially when I met Gladys,” she says. “But by the time I found out, we were already friends.”

Stephen says Sharon’s faith made no difference to the way he felt about her. “Too many lives have been ruined by people in Northern Ireland putting religion first,” he says. “I was determined not to do that. When I met Sharon, I saw the person she was, not the church she went to.”

But when the couple got engaged in 2003, there were whispers. “There were people saying, ‘Look at him. His father was murdered by the IRA, what’s he thinking of, marrying a Catholic?’ No one said it to my face, but I’ve no doubt it went on – differences are very entrenched here and marrying across the religious divide is still a big deal, even when you haven’t been through what my family have.”

Sharon, meanwhile, started to plan the wedding – until reality intervened. “I’d always had this idea in my mind that I’d walk down the aisle of St Michael’s, the Catholic church in Enniskillen – it’s the most gorgeous church,” she says.

But a Catholic priest advised her to think again. “He said it was going to seem very insensitive to Stephen’s family to have to go into a Catholic church after everything that had happened. I realised he was right. I said to Stephen, ‘We should get married in a Church of Ireland church – but we’ll have a Catholic priest there as well as the Protestant minister.'”

“That was a big thing she did,” says Stephen, “because she really did love the idea of walking down the aisle of St Michael’s. But it shows the person Sharon is – always willing to put other people’s feelings before her own.”

The wedding was, the couple agree, a wonderful occasion. It was the first time many of Sharon’s family had been inside a Protestant church – and the first time some of Stephen’s family had met a Catholic priest. “It really did bring people together in a very positive way,” says Sharon.

But there was, of course, somebody missing: “I’d have so loved my dad to have been there,” says Stephen. “I always looked up to him, I thought the world of him. I’d love him to have met Sharon – he’d have adored her.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t see as much of him as I’d have liked because he was station sergeant – at the first sign of any disturbance, and there were plenty of them, he’d have to go straight into work.”

Going to work – for Gladys and Samuel – was always potentially dangerous. “There were days I’d go into school and wonder whether I’d still have both my parents by home time,” Stephen says.

“There was a lot of violence, a lot of deaths. They were desperate times.”

As members of the security forces were continually targeted by the IRA, there was a constant need for caution within the family. “If we were going out to the shops or for a drive, my parents would always go out first to check there was no bomb underneath our car. Once they knew it was safe, they’d make a signal to us through the window that it was OK to go out on to the road.”

The irony was that after Samuel took early retirement, the danger seemed to have receded. In the months leading up to his death, he was at home while Gladys was out working. It meant he had more time to spend with his sons – as well as Stephen, there was his older brother, Keith. “It felt like things were getting calmer, that we were going to all be OK,” says Stephen. “I was spending a lot of time with my dad – we’d recently taken up golf together.”

Remembrance Sunday was always a big event in Enniskillen. “That Sunday, Dad put on his best suit, as he always would for an occasion like that. And I remember that I, being 18, refused to wear mine: I insisted on wearing a leather jacket I’d bought the day before. They said at the hospital that the jacket saved my life because it was padded and it protected me from the blast.”

Stephen and Samuel were standing near the cenotaph, waiting for Keith to join them. Gladys was at the cathedral getting ready for the ceremony there. “Keith was delayed getting up to us – if he’d been on time he’d have been caught in the blast too,” says Stephen. “So it was just me and Dad standing there. I remember a policeman had just walked past and nodded to my dad and I’d turned to ask who that was. It was the last thing I ever said to my dad.”

The bomb, says Stephen, felt like being pushed forward by a terrific force. He lost consciousness for several seconds and came round to see his father dead beside him. He remembers a few seconds of eerie silence before pandemonium broke out. “There were injured people, dead people, everywhere,” he says. “I was walking round in a daze, severely concussed – I remember feeling the blood running down the back of my head. Eventually, someone put me into a police minibus and took me to hospital.”

Meanwhile, at the church, Gladys was frantic to find out what had happened to her husband and sons. “Someone went down to find her and told her that Dad was alive, but I was dead. She was taken to the hospital – and it was only when she got to the ward and saw me that she found out the truth.”

Stephen was discharged from hospital late that night. “I remember Keith drove us home; I was in the back seat, Mum in the front. As we were going down the road, Mum turned to us and said, very strongly and very clearly, ‘I don’t want either of you boys doing anything stupid.’ She was afraid we were going to try to retaliate for Dad; she thought we might get caught up with the loyalist cause. She didn’t want innocent Catholics to suffer the way we were suffering – she thought that was totally wrong.”

Stephen never toyed with getting involved in terrorism, but did still hope to follow his father into the RUC. “From being a wee boy I’d walk around the house in my dad’s cap, pretending to be a policeman,” he says. “It was all I wanted to do.” But when he applied a year or so after the bomb, he failed the medical. “I wasn’t fit enough any more. Mum was against me joining. She said she’d lost a husband to the Troubles, she didn’t want to lose a son as well.”

Today, Stephen and Sharon live outside Enniskillen, in a beautiful rural area of Fermanagh. Sharon works in the town centre; Stephen, who had to give up work in an electronics factory, is at home. In the aftermath of the explosion, he was thought to be one of the lucky ones – he seemed to have got away with minor injuries. But in the weeks following the blast, he developed psoriasis linked to the extreme trauma he’d experienced, which has developed into a painful arthritic condition.

Over the last few years, Stephen’s health has deteriorated, and both his and Sharon’s mothers have died. But the couple live in hope of better times, as they always have. Their dream is to have children they can bring up free of violence and hatred.

Their children won’t be raised as Protestants, says Sharon, and they won’t be raised as Catholics. They will be brought up in both denominations equally and taught to value the principles that unite the two churches, not the dogma and politics that divide them. “We go to my church one Sunday and to Stephen’s church the next, and that’s the way we’ll carry on once we have children,” she says.

“We’ll send them to an integrated school because education is where it all starts. And we’ll teach our children that it’s people themselves – not their religion and not their politics – that matter most of all in life.”


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Posted by admin - November 3, 2012 at 08:57

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Cameron: the Tories are for everyone

‘It’s tough. These are difficult times, we’re being tested,’ prime minister to tell delegates at party conference

David Cameron will seek to prevent Ed Miliband’s “one nation” Labour driving him from the common ground of British politics on Wednesday, asserting that his brand of compassionate Conservatism is not just for the strong, but also the best way to help the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.

Despite a conference full of tough messages on burglary, welfare and sometimes social issues, the prime minister will insist: “My mission from the day I became leader was … to show the Conservative party is for everyone, north or south, black or white, straight or gay.”

In his annual speech to the Conservative party conference, he will tell his party: “It’s not enough to know our ideas are right. We’ve got to explain why they are compassionate too.”

His aides decline to refer to the political “centre ground” arguing that on issues such as welfare, crime and Europe, the common ground is to the right, and in territory long occupied by the Conservatives. He will also refuse to bury the much derided “big society” concept in his keynote speech closing the conference season saying his task is “above all to show Conservative methods are not just the way we grow a strong economy, but the way we build a big society”.

But on the day after the IMF issued another downgrade of its UK growth forecasts, Cameron will also issue a stark, almost existential, warning to the country, saying unparalleled global forces mean the country is at an hour of reckoning.

He will say: “Unless we act, unless we take difficult decisions, unless we show determination and imagination, Britain may not be the force which it has been in the past. The truth is this we are in a global race today and that means an hour of reckoning for a country like ours – sink or swim, do or die.”

At the same time, flashes of his trademark optimism will appear, drawing on the revival of the British spirit shown in the Olympic summer.

Cameron’s aides believe that Miliband’s largely insular address to his own party totally failed to address not just the deficit but the scale of competitive challenge facing Britain due to rise of new global powers. He will argue that these forces require tough decisions on spending, welfare, and schools if the strivers working hard are not to feel cheated.

The prime minister’s aides acknowledge that although Miliband, in personal terms, delivered a strong speech, they estimate he has made two major strategic errors in failing to make tough decisions on the deficit or show a greater willingness to curb the welfare budget.

Cameron will say: “Labour’s plans to borrow more is actually a massive gamble with our economy and with our future. We’re here because they spent too much money and borrowed too much. How can the answer be more spending and more borrowing. I honestly think Labour has not learned a thing.”

George Osborne upped the stakes by claiming a fundamental threat to the free enterprise system now existed, adding to claims made by Cameron that Labour is waging class war.

He told a meeting of businessmen in Birmingham: “Really for the first time in my adult lifetime, up for grabs is the argument about a free enterprise economy.

“That was really resolved I thought at the end of my teenage years when the Berlin Wall fell and all parties and all groups in Britain basically accepted the consensus of the free market economy.

“I would say you just see signs of that being contested, contested because of what’s happened in the banking crash, and people are starting to say it’s OK for the state to take 50% of the national income, it’s OK for the state to tax people 50% of their income, it’s actually wrong to challenge vested interests in our education and welfare system.”

In an implicit acknowledgement that the electorate remains confused about his core values, Cameron will reveal more than he has ever done before about his personal background.

Cameron will not present himself as a hard luck story, but the son of a man that suffered disability, stigma, loneliness and a broken family. Cameron’s father Ian died two years ago aged 77 and had been born with both legs deformed, and endured repeated operations in an attempt to straighten them. “Because disability in the thirties was such a stigma, he was an only child and probably a lonely child,” Cameron will say.

Challenging those who see the Conservatives as the party of snobs and the rich, he will say: “There is nothing complicated about me. I believe in working hard, caring for my family and serving my country”.

Cameron found himself under growing pressure over his plans to cut the welfare budget, with Liberal Democrat grassroots bodies demanding that Nick Clegg does not sign up to such measures. They are furious that their plan to raise taxes through a “mansion tax” has been thrown out by the chancellor. There is suspicion in Lib Dem circles that Clegg has in broad terms agreed to this level of welfare cuts, something his officials hotly deny.

Mark Garnier, a member of the Treasury select committee, said at a fringe event: “The reason we have a low interest rate is because the economy is absolutely screwed.” But Cameron rejected a change: “It’s not Plan B that we need, what we are doing is making sure that every part of Plan A is firing on all cylinders.”


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Posted by admin - October 10, 2012 at 08:35

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Forget the nanny state. This is mollycoddling business | Zoe Williams

The youth contract hands out sweeteners to train unpaid youngesters. When did employment become a social service?

The youth contract is one of those initiatives that made very little impression until a select committee started worrying about it. In its report, the committee concludes that it’s well-intended but probably won’t meet its own targets – of 160,000 wage incentives and 250,000 additional work experience places.

Both of those phrases make me think of money, either in the form of a free person, or in the form of actual money going to the employer. Sure enough, the “wage incentives” amount to a government grant of £2,275 for employing someone aged 18-24 for more than 26 weeks. The work experience amounts to a placement of two to eight weeks, while the trainee’s benefits (plus travel, plus childcare) continue to be paid by the government. It’s interesting that the government literature states: “The key principle for supporting participants during the placement should be to treat them as regular employees as far as possible” – treat them like a regular worker, in other words, but never brook the possibility that this might lead to a regular worker being put out of work.

There are other measures in the contract, including “sector-based work academies” – where businesses arm young people with specific skills for their industry, paid for by a combination of government agencies – and apprenticeship grants (perhaps you can guess what these are – nope? OK then. The employer takes on a young person, and then the government thanks them with £1,000).

It has been inexorable, this move to shift the cost of training away from the employer on to the young person. As it becomes clear that people at the start of their careers often cannot front this cost, the government steps in; anything to keep the cost of training away from the employer. Well, sure, in a kingdom of the unproductive, the half-arsed hirer is king – but this new maths, where the under-24s are worth so little that even taking them on unpaid amounts to a social service, has an attendant narrative.

The advice leaflet aimed at employers begins: “For some young people a lack of understanding of the working world is a significant barrier to finding and sustaining employment.” It’s interesting: when did young people ever understand the working world? In which bygone era did school or university send pupils out into the world knowing how to use a fax machine and smile like they meant it? The subtle but persistent message is that young people are getting steadily worse at the transition from education to work; this is then amplified by “business leaders” who deliver puzzling broadsides about how this generation looks scruffy and can’t spell.

The problem with business leaders, apart from the way they overpay themselves and underpay everybody else, is that they rarely feel the need to stand up their claims. The world is their golf club. They simply make a statement about, say, grade inflation or “young people’s attitudes”, and its very provenance makes it true. Tesco makes money, after all – its high command must know what they’re talking about. None of the rest of us knows how to make money.

This idea that putting up with unpaid youngsters involves huge beneficence on the employer’s part is a rare example of something that is genuinely classless (you’ll find unpaid trainees everywhere, from Poundland to parliament). It also involves persistently downplaying, to the point of never mentioning, the ways in which school and college leavers may be better than more experienced workers – they may have more energy or be more flexible (in other words, they’ll stay later). They may have a new perspective, be more receptive – or failing all of those things, they will at least be able to show you how to use your iPhone. You rarely hear employers say they relish the prospect of training up a school or college leaver to their exact specifications; whereas I remember employers being cock-a-hoop about recruitment – genuine, unsubsidised recruitment with a paycheck and everything – when I finished university.

Sure, measures that look a bit desperate and craven in a boom look necessary and sound in a bust. But there are important things to bear in mind; first, employers would not be in this position of strength if we weren’t in a recession, and at some point even a government as infatuated with business as this one will have to see that the private sector can’t drag us out of recession on its own. They can only sell things to people who will buy things. It will not work if people have no spending power; the more unpaid work you promote, and the more paid workers you displace with unpaid ones, the less spending power there is.

And then subsidies, grants, sweeteners, “sector-based work academies” (the more often I say it, the dodgier it sounds) – this does not look like a competitive free market. This looks like nanny-state behaviour, except that instead of nannying individuals, it’s mollycoddling industry. To extend the analogy, the state is nannying the adults while the children are left foraging for nuts and berries.

Finally, we can’t permanently write off the younger generation as constitutionally useless and reframe the employer’s need for labour as civic generosity. This would be unjust and illogical – not all jobs need experience, but they still need doing, and if they need doing, they warrant paying. Furthermore, only the bitterest resentment between generations would sustain such a lopsided view. I cannot believe the employing generation, who surely have children in the generation below, will swallow it.

Twitter: @zoesqwilliams


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Posted by admin - September 20, 2012 at 08:40

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G4S Olympic effort shows limits of private sector, says Philip Hammond

Defence secretary praises military rescue of Games security and says lessons can be learned

The failure by G4S to meet the Olympics security requirements have shown the limitations of private sector companies taking on public sector contracts, the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, said.

In an interview with the Independent he said: “I came into the MoD with a prejudice that we have to look at the way the private sector does things to know how we should do things in government. But the story of G4S and the military rescue is quite informative.”

He said as two models of how to approach a problem “you could not get two greater extremes than the G4S model and the military model”.

“The G4S model says here is a cost envelope within which I have to deliver an outcome and therefore I have to do it incredibly leanly.

“So G4S were literally hiring people and expecting to deploy them three days later, into a live situation; trying to build up a management structure overnight, at the beginning of the operation.

“A very lean structure, with lots of dependence on self-motivation by the people in the workforce; scheduling their own shifts, for example, by accessing an internet site.

“The military comes at it from the exact opposite extreme. What’s the job that needs to be done? OK, we’ll do it. Whatever it takes we’ll pour in massive over-resourcing, massively heavy structures of management.”

He added: “What the military primarily deliver is contingent capability and I haven’t been able to think of a single large-scale example where a private organisation delivers a contingent capability.

“You pay for it, year in, year out, but you probably never use it for what it’s designed for.”

An MoD spokesman said: “The defence contribution to the Olympics was always planned to avoid an impact on current operations.

“So, while some individual training and leave may need to be rescheduled, this will be managed and will not impact on operations including the ongoing mission in Afghanistan.

“Given the scale and importance of this once in a generation event, including the forthcoming Paralympics, it is right that all across government play a part in ensuring the success of the Games.

“This includes the armed forces who have done a fantastic job while continuing to deliver on other standing tasks and duties.”


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Posted by admin - August 14, 2012 at 08:43

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My manager often works from home, and I have to field for her

It’s taking a lot of getting used to, and I too would like to work from home sometimes

On Friday and Monday we publish the problems that will feature in a forthcoming Dear Jeremy advice column in the Guardian Money supplement, so readers can offer their own advice and suggestions. We then print the best of your comments alongside Jeremy’s own insights. Here is the latest dilemma – what are your thoughts?

I work in an academic department in higher education. The business manager who heads up the department works from home two to three days a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. She is usually available by mobile phone, Skype or email, but diverts her landline to mine, so I deal with her inquiries as and when they come through.

The manager is a very nice person and is pretty flexible, but the rest of the academic team (all on lower pay grades) very rarely get to work from home themselves, causing some resentment.

I have never worked for a manager who works from home so much, and it is taking quite a bit of time to get used to. In a way I resent being asked to cover for her, as I am not paid as much as her – even if I am capable of making sure the department runs OK. I have been in the department for just under a year, and understand from others that when this manager did the job I do she also worked from home a couple of days a week and the others were expected to deal with any inquiries in her absence.

Perhaps the problem is with me, and that the only way to get over it is to move jobs. I really don’t know how to approach this in a way that isn’t going to show me in a bad light, or should I bite the bullet and ask if I too can work from home?

• For Jeremy’s and readers’ advice on a work issue, send a brief email to [email protected]. Please note that he is unable to answer questions of a legal nature or reply personally.


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Posted by admin - August 10, 2012 at 08:54

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My responsibilities have increased but my salary is still £18K

I was hired as an assistant but am essentially an account manager – but my boss won’t look at my salary until my review

On Friday and Monday we publish the problems that will feature in a forthcoming Dear Jeremy advice column in the Guardian Money supplement, so readers can offer their own advice and suggestions. We then print the best of your comments alongside Jeremy’s own insights. Here is the latest dilemma – what are your thoughts?

I have worked for a small PR agency in London for a year and struggle to make ends meet on my salary of £18k. My employer has said she will only re-assess my salary once a year, even though my responsibilities and workload have considerably increased in the last six months.

I feel this is really unfair as I am doing a job I am not being paid for. I was hired as an assistant, but am now essentially an account manager. I am drowning in debts and worry constantly about the future. I appreciate that I am at the bottom of the ladder and that in five years’ time I will be earning a lot more, but I can’t afford to live on £18k for much longer.

Do I just carry on until I can work elsewhere or keep on fighting? Is it OK to tell your employer that you are struggling to make ends meet?

• For Jeremy’s and readers’ advice on a work issue, send a brief email to [email protected]. Please note that he is unable to answer questions of a legal nature or reply personally.


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Posted by admin - August 6, 2012 at 08:09

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Improve the civil service: focus more on middle 80%

Maximising the potential of civil servants between ‘high flyers’ and ‘slackers’ is the key to better performance

As organisations strive to enhance the efficiency and productivity of their workforce, there is inevitably a focus on the effectiveness of performance management and, in particular, appraisal systems.

Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, sparked debate with his assertion that the problem of underperforming civil servants should be addressed through identifying, and potentially reducing the pay of the “bottom 10% of performers”, while offering pay bonuses to “high flyers”.

This follows comments from Cabinet Office minster Francis Maude, who said performance management had not been very good, neither in terms of recognising the best performers, nor in addressing the worst performers. “What we will need to end up with is the way performance management is done in most organisations, which is, you force managers to do rankings to rate people in order of performance.”

So is that what good performance management is about – rewarding high flyers and sacking poor performers? Effective performance management is more fundamentally about maximising the potential and productivity of everyone, particularly the 80% who are highlighted as neither “high flyers” nor “slackers”. They form the key group who will actually make the difference between organisational high performance and just doing OK.

Maximising their engagement and productivity is fundamental, and the key to achieving this is effective performance management.

Debate around performance management is also focused mainly on process. In the civil service, ranking people is being promoted as the way of making performance management effective. HR itself has been guilty of being somewhat obsessed about the appraisal process, fiddling about with forms and frameworks. In reality it is not the form or framework that is significant, it is the quality of the conversations that are taking place within appraisal and, crucially, through the year, around the performance of the individual.

This is the prerequisite for improving the work of poor performers (and removing them if necessary), sustaining the engagement of high performers and maximising the contribution of those in the middle.

Maude does acknowledge this when he says there has been no incentive for managers to take tough decisions and have difficult conversations. However, once again the focus is on the “difficult” people. It is not just difficult conversations that should take place, but good, effective conversations with the 80% in the middle – as well as the 20% at either end – that will drive performance upwards. And we need managers to be equipped to facilitate them.

Research shows that younger workers are demanding more effective conversations about their performance, but all staff deserve to be engaged in the kind of conversations that identify what they are doing well, clarify what their objectives are, highlight where they can improve and agree with them about how they can address these issues and develop themselves further if they wish to do so.

This is the essence of a good performance management system, one that enables poor performance to be tackled, great performance to be recognised and everyone’s contribution to be maximised.

Across public services we have to get this right, as we strive for higher levels of productivity, but let’s not obsess about process. Let’s be obsessive about getting it right for everyone.

Martin Rayson is president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association

This article is published by Guardian Professional. Join the Guardian Public Leaders Network free to receive regular emails on the issues at the top of the professional agenda.


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Ex-mid/back-office support worker: ‘I’m a casualty of market conditions’ | Joris Luyendijk

An unemployed operations worker tells Joris Luyendijk about redundancy and feeling intimidated by traders

• This monologue is part of a series in which people across the financial sector speak about their working lives

“Is there any appetite to hear the plight of an unemployed banker in a more modest middle-office role?”, he wrote in to the blog. At his suggestion we are meeting for a green tea at a Starbucks in Canary Wharf, where he used to work. A British Asian in his early 30s, he seems a genuinely friendly man, somewhat tense and strikingly precise when formulating his thoughts. A number of times he inquires if his experiences are interesting enough, compared with the traders elsewhere on the blog. He also frets about the comments: “Some of your readers seem very unforgiving.”

“Your readers so far have been fed on a constant diet of traders, brokers, and M&A bankers. These guys represent no more than 5% of the finance community but receive 90+% of the publicity. The other downtrodden 95% need some representation too. In total, I worked for about five years in various support functions assisting front-office personnel.

“In the weeks after I got cut I would come here sometimes, to the Wharf. Take exactly the same exit from the tube, the same stairs as I would when going to work, walk the same route. This morning I consciously stopped myself from doing that.

“My ambition was always to work on the trading floor, to be front office. I realised early on that I could never get into one of the big banks, as they recruit only among top students at top universities. I don’t have that public school, Oxbridge résumé. So after graduating with a management economics degree I landed an internship at a very small firm. I didn’t mind doing the groundwork, fetching bacon rolls and coffee, as I was gaining important experience. This is how smaller firms operate; you start all the way at the bottom. Two of the traders were very nice, taking time to teach me things. The other two were too caught up in their own thing. When a job opened up I jumped at it, but in the end the nephew of one of the dealers got it.

“That was my first taste of the City, and the experience was repeated at other small places. They are unmeritocratic. You have to be part of the circle, and I wasn’t. That was very disappointing. I just couldn’t get a foothold.

“I made an internal compromise and took another route; work my way up in the operations side of big banks. This is what outsiders call ‘back office’ and the people there ‘ops’. You never say ‘back office’ when you work there. Indeed, if you do anything that can be construed as middle-office, you will go out of your way to let people know that’s where you are.

“Basically back-office is where trades are settled, the paperwork. It’s also reconciliation, when there’s a mismatch in details between the numbers of the buyer and the seller. There’s client services, and product control – when you might have to challenge a trader for how he calculated his P&L (profits and losses account of that day’s trading) – that would be more middle-office.

“I can’t say I enjoyed my years in back-office. The hours were OK, from 8am till 6pm, though you need to factor in the commute as well. I was making £50,000 a year.

“I had experienced the trading floor, the intoxicating atmosphere there… I remember thinking all the time ‘I am in the wrong place’. Being a lot wiser many years after the event, I could say that working on the desk was the worst thing to happen to my career. It made me chase the holy grail and not settle for anything else. This is only good if it works out.

“Operations can be repressive, without much room for individual expression. I have seen LinkedIn pages from people who steadily moved up from back office. But you need a good team and a good boss, and most of the time, I had neither.

“One time I was in a great team. Operations is always big open-plan floors, where various teams are quite cliquey – trades support here, settlement over there, and so on. Here there was a real sociable vibe, you’d go for a beer after work, and the various teams would intermingle.

“Back-office people are always enormously intimidated by the traders. You know which ones have a huge P&L (earning a lot for the bank), their reputation precedes them. Most have nicknames. Hot-shot traders can be abrupt and abrasive, always under pressure. You learn to pick your moments for a query. Salespeople are more amenable, since your queries often involve their client, and they generally have more people skills.

“When people needed to get in touch with traders, you could see them spend too long crafting an email, hesitate to pick up the phone…

“In retrospect I made a number of mistakes. I bounced a lot between banks, thinking this would get me valuable experience. It’s much better to stay in one place and align yourself politically with senior people. Build up expertise so they will think, we don’t want to lose this guy. Make sure you’re not a number. How I wish I had known that, Joris.

“You can tell if someone in back-office harbours aspirations – though nobody is upfront about it. They will take things very seriously, get involved in projects, try to find ways to make processes more efficient. They also play the political game, make sure that when a senior person wants something involving extra work, they agree to it and take ownership.

“These were the hyper keen people … Something would come in at 6pm and you knew you could defer it to tomorrow, or take another 45 minutes to get it done. The hyper keen people would stay in the office. I wouldn’t. The work was so monotonous. And I knew this just wasn’t what I wanted to do in the first place.

“What makes front-office on the trading floor so attractive? You’re in the frontline, get to make snap decisions, you have instant visibility of your performance and that performance is completely binary, you win or lose. I liked the environment, too. Totally non-PC. During that internship, if I got the breakfast order wrong, I’d be called the c-word. They use that all the time, the worst word in the English language. The first time I got called the c-word, I remember being quite shocked, thinking: that’s a bit of an overreaction. But that’s the trading floor and that’s what I loved: no politics, and you can speak without a filter.

“There’s also the client entertainment, doing all the classy stuff. Where brokers take clients out to expensive clubs, restaurants, Wimbledon, strip clubs, prostitutes… A dangerous, addictive world? I wouldn’t mind those things. And I wouldn’t get addicted. To be the beneficiary of that, as a trader, that must be excellent.

“And then there’s the money. I suppose only footballers, criminals and traders earn so much at such a young age. Footballers are the best of the bunch, obviously, but they have to put up with huge intrusions into their private lives. Traders don’t, unless they blow up the bank. Criminals? That’s very high risk.

“I suppose my ideal job is that of the interdealer broker you interviewed. He’s matching up between buyer and seller, without running risks himself. And he gets to take traders out on client entertainment. But as your broker says in the interview, you need connections to get started. You need a trader to say to a brokerage: I will give my business to this guy if you hire him.

“I am a casualty of the tough market conditions. The thing is, I have a passion for finance and don’t see myself working in any other industry. With the economy where it is, it all looks pretty grim and precarious.

“In my last job we had a cut in February, where we lost somebody on the team, then another in November, when we lost a few more. The third cut, in December, got me. I lost myself in drink, for a week or so. Then I got seriously depressed, having to seek help and medication. That’s been a year, and now there’s this huge gap in my résumé.

“This is a relentlessly competitive sector, constantly shedding jobs. The American banks, regardless of the point in the economic cycle, will routinely fire the worst-performing 5% of their job force. Standard.

“So here I am. One way to learn about making it in finance is to follow people for longer periods on LinkedIn. What did they do, and for how long? You can get this app on your phone with a news feed about profile updates. This way you can see if somebody has got a new job. Often when people are made redundant, they will add stuff to their profile. I must admit that when I see somebody has lost his job, there is a tiny bit of schadenfreude, as in, now you know what it’s like to be in my shoes. I should get rid of that app, actually.

“Obviously I’ve been speaking to recruitment consultants and employers. I’ve come up against superficial recruiters who act all ‘matey’ for a little while, then lose interest if they feel they can’t immediately place you. They all employ the same stock phrases when communicating with you and when relaying their ‘expert’ views on the market.

“At bank interviews, I’ve sat opposite guys a few years younger than me. This tends to induce anxieties about my lost career ground. It is made worse when they act in a slightly condescending manner due to my time out of the market. If the interviewer is lucky enough to have been unscathed by the market conditions, he or she perceives you as damaged goods and subconsciously discriminate against you.

“Attending a ‘courtesy’ interview was a frustrating experience. Basically the lucky candidate is pre-selected beforehand. You’re just taking part of a charade to appease HR and run a ‘process’.

“Being unemployed, having moved back in with my parents and seeing my savings dwindle, I have started applying for jobs in other sectors. I find myself in this terrible assessment centre, competing with kids, essentially, all struggling with English, to get a job that is way below what I used to do. I tell myself, you’re unemployed, you can’t afford any pride. That’s what this past year has taught me: resilience and humility.

“What do you think commenters will make of me? Will they see me as someone who just wasn’t cut out for it? Dead wood? I still believe I deserve one more chance in this industry.”

• Follow @JLbankingblog on Twitter


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