On Twitter today our local Labour party person, Dean Reeves, tweeted something about Tetley and how much they are paying people in Northern India. I know, I know, when you’re talking about poor people in foreign countries, if you’re halfway smart, you have to gush about how cruel big corporations are. Fair enough – sometimes they are cruel. Forced Labour, unsanitary conditions, poor treatment of staff are all things to be furious about. But amongst all of that there is a tendency to take things out of context, and context does matter. Well, it matters if you care about the people themselves rather than just the political mileage you can make out of it.
So this is the link http://action.sumofus.org/a/tetley-tea-tata/?sub=tw to the report which has brought Mr. Reeves to rail against Tetley’s employment practices. The webpage, organised by some pressure group or other, wants to raise public awareness of the situation. Their report – if accurate – does indeed highlight some things that any decent person would be concerned about. But mixed in with it are some misconceptions which need to also be highlighted so that a balanced view can be taken.
So first of all – the big headline is “Workers, including children and the elderly, are paid less than $3 a day to pick our tea.” Sounds dreadful, right? Three dollars a day? I mean bloody hell, that’s only £1.79 at today’s exchange rate. You can’t buy much with that can you? That’s less than a third the hourly minimum wage in the UK. Slave Labour, surely?
What we’re missing here is the cost of living. Because if those people were working in Britain for $3.00 a day they’d be in big trouble. But in Northern India? It’s not quite the same. Here are some prices, updated this month.
House Rent for 1 month in rural farming area – from $70.00 a month.
Loaf of Bread $0.37
Gasoline (1 litre) $1.21
1KG Potatoes $0.37
Bottle Of Water $0.21
Pack Of Cigarettes $1.78
Bottle Of Coke $0.34
Monthly Internet Connection $18.65
Monthly Fitness Club Membership $18.43
Milk, 1 Litre $0.58
1KG Rice $0.72
1KG Chicken Breasts $2.94
Looks a bit different to the pricing we see in the U.K. doesn’t it?
So if you presume four members of a household working on $3.00 a day, then you have a total household earning $360.00 a month. As you can see, $360.00 a month goes rather further than it would at home – and yet we perceive everything based on our own preconceptions.
The website then says:-
They toil from dawn until dusk, often spraying industrial pesticides with little protection, and going back to run-down homes that are open to rain and wind
This is a much better argument. We can all agree, I hope, that Tetley owe a duty of care to their staff and that they should provide their employees with protection from dangerous chemicals if they are exposed to great risk and harm. I don’t know the facts about what chemicals are used or how much risk there is – but presuming the websites claims are correct then it’s a good campaign which I’d support. As for the “run down homes that are open to rain and wind” – I’m not sure how you connect Tetley to that? It is not their job to provide housing for their staff. Surely the government of India would be the place to look for policies which improve housing and living standards in poor areas? Since they choose to work for Tetley this must be the best wage offer they have, and therefore the most likely way they will be able to afford improvements in their standard of living and accomodation?
This is my key problem with these campaigns which seek to demonise large companies who employ people on what appear to be low wages. Just take a moment to think about it. The job offer Tetley are offering must be the best one that is available to those staff. It must be, because if there were a better option available then it stands to reason those people would go and work there. If other companies were queueing up to offer $5 a day, or $10 a day, or $1000 a day, then the staff would be saying: “Stuff you, Tetley, we’re taking our skills and energy elsewhere.” The fact that they choose to work for Tetley proves that Tetley are the best offer on the table. So a large corporation is providing the people of Northern India with a better option than any of the businesses that originate in that country or any other local business at all. When comfortable middle class armchair warriors sitting in their plush and warm studies write angry letters and set up websites pointing out how cruel and evil Tetley are to pay people only $3.00 a day, what they are actually arguing for is to take away the best option available to a huge number of very poor people. How is this at all helpful?
I suspect, if you went and met the workers in Northern India and said to them: “Listen, we know Tetley are treating your terribly, but don’t worry, we’re going to expose them and stop them doing this to you,” you might find that those people weren’t quite as thankful as you think. Because maybe $90.00 a month that buys you 200 Kilos of potatoes, or 450 bottles of clean water, or fresh meat for dinner every day is preferable to the other limited options you have?
Would I prefer the people of Northern India to have more disposable income, more choices and a better standard of living? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t?
I just reckon they are more likely to get that through the sort of trade, education, specialisation and employment offered by Tetley and other large business interests than via prostitution and subsistence farming and whatever other options they have chosen to avoid in favour of Tetley’s offer of employment. Instead of shouting about how evil Tetley are they should be congratulated for bringing the best option to so many people – and then gently encouraged to do a bit more and a bit more and a bit more, without driving them elsewhere and stranding all those people back into desperate poverty again.
Killer! Blood on their hands.
There’s a lot of chat on the various Wisbech Facebook groups about the traffic lights throughout the town. Of course, this has been highlighted by the delays caused by roadworks, but it brings up some interesting points which I want to try and answer.
One of the things I hear a lot is: “Why are there so many traffic lights now?” and “whoever sanctioned all of this needs to be shot.”
Which puts me in a difficult position because on the one hand I did oppose most of these new lights – but on the other hand I do understand that the arguments for and against are not as simplistic as some think they are. As ever.
The profusion of traffic lights is a symptom of the struggle between road users of different types; motorists, cyclists, pedestrians. The balance local authorities try to achieve is between ease of use and convenience for motorists so that local people can go about their business in an effective way – and in trying to make the roads safe for people who walk, cycle or travel by some other method which doesn’t involve them being surrounded by half a ton of metal.
Take the debate about Cromwell Road as a prime example. I remember it well. Officers proposed a set of traffic lights at the Weasenham Lane junction and the reasons were primarily about pedestrian safety. There are lots of new houses in the area creating additional footfall, coupled with people using the road to walk to Tesco and the other out of town shops there. A few of us felt that, given the road already had new traffic lights just a hundred yards further along, this would mean too much delay for motorists as they queued at one set of traffic lights after another. Actually there was only one local County Councillor who supported those lights but since it was in the division they represented they had the “final say.” Although, to be honest, I think it was more a case that what they were saying matched what the Officers wanted to do, but perhaps that’s overly cynical.
It’s worth thinking about this. Right now, people are calling the Council names for putting in “too many” traffic lights along that road. But just imagine the Council had agreed with those of us that felt that – on balance – this extra set of lights wasn’t such a good idea. Then imagine some young lady pushing a pram had been involved in an accident as they tried to cross.
What would the outcry have been?
Suddenly the mob would have been screaming for the blood of the evil councillors who had prevented “much needed safety measures” and demanding how little they must care about “real people.”
The Really Really Really Truly Independents, who rarely find a convenient bandwagon they wont leap upon, would have been in town with a petition calling for resignations and criminal convictions.
UKIP would write an angry letter to the paper blaming Eastern Europeans And Tories And Gay People, or something.
The infamous Facebook group Wisbech Oh Dear! would have a new mash-up graphic on its title page with the faces of local Conservatives super-imposed on an image of the Grim Reaper (even if other Councillors had been involved in the decision, it is the Conservative faces that’d be framed as boatmen on the river Styx.)
Much the same arguments crop up elsewhere. On the Horsefair Roundabout – which is subject to traffic lights on almost every one of the main roads leading off it it, mostly just yards from the roundabout itself. I fought every one of those traffic lights, suggesting alternatives, trying to get Officers to reconsider. Not because I don’t think they are useful – of course they are useful to pedestrians – but because that is the single busiest road feature in the whole Town and I was concerned that constantly adding more and more lights and controls to it would cause it to grind to a halt. Each time, Officers produced long “evidence” documents, often framed with legal obligations the Council had to meet. Then they’d get the local Councillor to support the measures on “safety grounds” and that was that – argument over. Because you simply can’t argue with the “If it saves one life” position unless you are prepared to be the “guilty party” when an accident does eventually happen.
I’m not really ranting about this. It is what it is. People will scream at you for delaying them and they will scream at you for not opposing changes which inconvenience them – and I don’t blame them. But it is nothing compared to the fury you will face if you do what the majority seem to be asking and then somebody dies because of it. Suddenly, everybody is denying they ever said anything or asked you to oppose anything and you’ll be pictured on the front page of the local newspaper of choice, friendless and forlorn, under the headline “Killer! Blood on their hands.”
What’s Going On?
People are asking how it is that Wisbech has so many different sets of roadworks and road closures all going on at the same time.
Some of the comments I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere:-
“Where is the common sense? Isn’t anybody thinking about the cumulative effect of doing this all at once.”
“Is there any road in Wisbech that isn’t at least partially closed?”
“Is there some evil gnome in charge of the Highways Works in Wisbech right now? Somebody who simply enjoys inflicting chaos on the Town while paralysing traffic throughout?”
“What do you mean there’s even more road and bridge closures to come? Are they mad?”
I don’t want to be too tough about all this because these are broadly very necessary works. The new surface on the dual carriageway represents a large investment which Sam Hoy, Simon King and I fought hard for about 18 months ago and were proud to have secured. The additional flood defences were mostly the work of Cllr Hoy – who spent a lot of time pushing for better defences for Wisbech North (back when it was an unpopular policy and opponents were claiming it was a waste of money. Before the flood defences clearly rescued the town from the sort of problems other parts of the country are having right now.) All this work represents investments in the repair and rejuvenation of the town’s infrastructure and should be welcomed.
But when it takes 30 minutes to cross the town at some times during the day – when cars are queued back half a mile or finding themselves trying to thread their way through diversions to get to somewhere they can see but cannot reach without long detours, you begin to wonder. Did all this have to happen at exactly the same time? Was there some way that the delays and hassle could have been mitigated?
After all we’ve had big roadworks projects before but we’ve seldom seen quite such a lot of gridlock and delay.
So you might ask, what has changed? Whose job is it to bring the local knowledge of the area to officers and planners at the other end of the County? Who should be checking the schedules and work plans to see if there’s any better way to manage them? And has anything changed in the last year or so which might, just might, reflect the chaos we are seeing?
The flood defences and roadworks need doing, no doubt. It wont last forever and then things will get back to normal. Until then, if you’re sitting in traffic, mull over what’s different. Choices have consequences.
A Vision In A Dream. A Fragment.
With sincere apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge :)
In Wisbech did Pop Jolley
a stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Nene, the sacred river ran
Through tunnels measureless to man
Through Wisbech port and out to sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
with dykes and gulleys girdled round
And there were memorial gardens bright with sinous rills,
Where blossomed many an apple bearing tree;
And here were flatlands ancient, but no hills,
Enfolding wind turbine tomfoolery.
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome right there,
But never would I change its name
or all would cry, Beware! Beware!
Her flashing eyes, her floating hair!
Weave a circle around her thrice
And close your eyes with holy dread
For she on publicity has fed
and drunk the single can of paradise.
Taking A Break
Regular readers will know that my blog goes through busy phases and quiet phases depending on my mood :)
Well, it’s about to enter a quiet phase for a while.
I am burnt-out right now and need a short time to recharge. There is only so much relentless negativity and cynicism I can stand and I reached my limit weeks ago.
I’ll still blog occasionally, but for now I’m going to focus on my duties, work and family for a bit.
This is the message UKIP are running in their Wythenshawe and Sale East Campaign. (Hat Tip Guido Fawkes.)
I’ve pointed out in the past that they weren’t “right of center” or at all conservative in the past and have suggested that their economics are left-wing. Well, here you go. ”Protect your benefits.” Sure, they’re going for Labour voters as their target in that seat. But this simply demonstrates that they either fancy themselves as the new Labour, targeting the Not Working Class, or they fancy themselves as the new Lib Dems, saying completely different things from one place to pluck votes from a gullible electorate.
Hudson Leisure Centre
The name change for the Hudson Leisure Centre was as much of a surprise to me as to anybody. I’m not on Fenland District Council and I didn’t hear anything about it any earlier than anybody else. However, since it all kicked off ( by which I mean one or two people stirred the pot a bit ) I’ve taken the time to find out what is actually going on. I’ll fill you in here and then you can make your own minds up in a more informed way.
First of all, the idea that £70,000 was spent on “changing a name” is wrong. The idea that the name has been changed in order to sell the leisure centre is also wrong. In fact, a fair portion of what people are saying as part of the “rumour mill” is incorrect. There is absolutely no plan to sell it at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Somebody suggested that the money could have been used to “reopen the Railway.” Well, no, not really. It could have been used to build a little wooden hut by the side of the railway maybe. Somebody else suggested it could have been used to fix the Belfast Building. Well no, not really. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to that, even if you put the legal complications of doing work on somebody else’s private property aside.
In fact, the Council allocated £50,000 to do some work on all four of the Fenland Leisure Centres. The work included quite a few different things actually and apparently Wisbech’s Hudson Leisure Centre got the lion’s share of the money – £37,000 or so. The purpose was apparently to build a “brand” which would enable the Council to promote all their chain of leisure centres in a more modern way. It was the start of a series of improvements they want to make to better serve the towns involved.
The money, spent on a mixture of things, included; new uniforms for the staff, new signage for all four centres, a new website to promote the sites and inform users about their activities and opening times etc, quite a lot of internal decor – particularly at The Hudson – with paint, wall coating, new flooring etc. So to say that £50,000 was spent just on “rebranding” is misleading because it suggests that was the cost of changing the name. Rather, that was the cost of a batch of work to spruce up and improve the centres alongside the “rebranding.” I specifically asked the cabinet member if any of these new-fangled “gurus” or PR companies was paid to help with the rebranding and was categorically told: “No.” This was all “in house.” So none of that silly waste you hear about elsewhere.
Now we come to the renaming – which is the other thing that people are talking about. I think it’s fair to say that not enough consultation was done, but FDC have been extremely quick to recognise that. Thanks to the work of Cllr Sam Hoy, the Mayor of Wisbech, who pointed out that the people of the town value the old name and the history behind it I was told today that, further to robust discussions with her, the name change need not actually change the name of the building. While the Leisure Center will have the big sign over the top giving its name as part of the group, there’s no reason at all why the building cannot also have a plaque on the front saying “The Hudson Centre.” There is plenty of examples of this elsewhere – companies often have their name over a building but then a plaque individually naming the building on the front. On top of that, also thanks to pressure from the Mayor, FDC would like to go further and include a display inside the building talking about Mr. Hudson and the history behind the Centre.
With all this in mind, it seems to me to be something of a mountain out of a molehill. You could still argue that £50,000 is a lot to spend on the sprucing up, signage, uniforms and internal decor of four Leisure Centres – and you might be right. We do always need to keep our eyes on the purchases of councils because things at council level, like every large public organisation, always seem to have a higher price tag than you might expect. But I equally don’t think that any of this is too dramatic. In fact, I rather like the fact that The Hudson is getting a make-over. It’s a valuable local resources, well used by many. I want our Council to regularly invest in it. Let’s just make sure we keep the name outside the building – maybe on a nice brass plaque – and get a great display inside. Isn’t that “best of both worlds?” After all – it doesn’t really matter what their “corporate” branding says, does it? We’re all still going to call it “The Hudson.” :)
A friend of mine was telling me the other day that what he’d really like to do was grab a bag of chips and a can of lager and go and sit in the park for lunch. ”I don’t know why,” He said. ”I just fancy it.”
“You couldn’t do that in Wisbech,” I told him. (We were in another town at the time.)
“Why not?” He asked.
“Not allowed. For a start, you can’t sit in the park with alcohol. You’ll get nicked. There’s a ban on drinking in public places. Sort of.”
“I was just going to have a can of beer. Not half a bottle of Whisky.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I told him. ”In fact, what you are proposing is worse.”
“Worse how?” He asked.
“It’s a single can. You aren’t allowed to buy single cans of beer.”
“Those are the rules,” I said.
“Says who? If I want to go and buy a single can I’ll go and buy a single can.”
“You won’t,” I said. ”The shops wont sell one to you. They’re not allowed.”
“They can sell a single can if they want to,” He assured me. ”No way is it against the law to sell a single can.”
“True,” I said. ”It’s not against the law – but they’ve all signed up to it anyway. Agreed it with the Police and the Council.”
“Bloody hell!” He cried. ”You’re joking? That’s ridiculous. What about if….”
“Please don’t,” I interrupted him. ”I’ve heard all the variations of the argument a million times. I’ve made those same points. But the rules are there and that is that.”
“It’s stupid,” He said. ”Why doesn’t one of the traders just refuse? I’m sure customers would flock to a shop that ignored stupid rules like that!”
“License reviews can be expensive for a business that relies on alcohol sales to stay afloat,” I pointed out.
“They can’t start a license review for something that isn’t against the law,” He told me.
“You reckon?” I asked him.
“Surely the people in the town were up in arms about it? I mean, it’s just plain crazy!”
“It was well-supported by a majority,” I confirmed.
“I’ve got a good mind to come to your town and open an off-license, just so I can stick my fingers up at these bureaucrats.”
“You couldn’t do that in Wisbech either.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“You couldn’t come and open a new off-license. It’s not allowed.”
“Says who?” He was looking a bit shell-shocked now.
“Says the Cumulative Impact Zone, which prevents new alcohol licenses in the area unless you can demonstrate that you will not add to the cumulative effect of antisocial behaviour in the town.”
“How can you prove a negative? You can’t!”
“It’s certainly a challenge,” I agreed.
“But doesn’t that mean that all the existing licensees – including the bad ones – are protected from competition? Won’t that put more power into the hands of big businesses with large legal resources rather than small businesses and local entrepreneurs? Won’t there be a premium on the value of existing licensees? How will new businesses come to the town?”
“Why have they done all this?” He asked.
“To stop the antisocial drinking problems that were associated with the town.”
“Wow. Really? Did it work?” He asked.
“Isn’t there anything you can do? I mean … what if I bought two cans of beer?”
“That would work,” I agreed.
“And then grabbed my bag of chips and sat somewhere they wouldn’t find me.”
“Like where?” I asked.
“Don’t you have all those little alleyways? I could lean against a wall and…”
“Ah.” I said. ”Sorry.”
“Why? What have they done? Closed all the alleyways?”
“Not all of them,” I said, defensively. ”Not yet.”