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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A 'living wage' in the pea-fields?

Growing up in the country, unregulated employment opportunities would arise in the fields around one's home each year; hand-harvesting of agricultural crops. By the age of 15 I was something of an expert - at least of those crops coming to ripeness during the hols. Peas were hard. You learned to choose your field, one where the haulms were crisp and unwilted, the pods fat with moisture, rather than the sun-dried ones. Since you were paid on weight, picking water was profitable, being heavier than pea. Then you had to claim your row; you were looking for a fat, even drill of laid over plants with no thin or patchy areas. To get a good row you had to be there at 6am, in competition with large itinerant women with forearms like Parma hams. Your own bucket was essential, and it took around three buckets to fill a 'net'. Once you had a couple of nets, you carried them over to the trailer to be weighed and paid in coin, then back to picking. Your bucket reserved your row. It was tough, back-aching work, and as soon as I was old enough to have a holiday job as a pot-washer in the local hotel I abandoned it gratefully.

Of course, had anyone challenged the farmer whether he was paying a 'living wage' equivalent to £7.45 an hour he would aver that your average Suffolk Stakhanov could earn it with ease. At my peak I guess I managed the then equivalent of £5 an hour - and I was young, fit, intelligent and used every advantage short of trying to hide stones in the nets. 

The real failures were the doleys - the unemployed who would try to supplement their benefit with a bit of pea picking. They'd turn up at 10, when only the low-yielding scabby rows were left, without the essential bucket, and were slow and inept. They'd take an age to part-fill a net then anger as they were turned back at the trailer for not making the weight (it was good to go to the trailer with excess weight - the surplus would go into a new net, so that sometimes you went back to your row with a quarter-net already filled). I doubt they managed to earn more than the equivalent of £2.50 an hour.

Of course, it's all about productivity. To warrant paying an office cleaner £8.55 an hour in London, she'd have to service an entire office floor - bins, vacuum, wipe-downs, toilets and kitchen clean - in that time. Employers will seek staff who can do so - and they will be young, intelligent, fit, Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians rather than slow, inept, wheezy 50-something natives.

That's just the way it works.


Anonymous said...

They usually do "service" an entire floor.
They are also usually foreign.
Most of them are "employed" by agencies, many times based abroad to escape NI and tax contributions (note the "employed", since agency work is a a never-never land where you are actually employed by nobody, and have to buy/provide your own protective equipment and tools).
Having worked all my life I now have reached the stage where I qualify as "wheezy 60-something". Still, come the (de)volution and "wheezy 60-somethings" are consigned to the gas chambers...
Please note: In this day and age nobody employs children in fields. Apart from the horrendous implications of accidents there is also the insurance problem....not to mention that any adults would have "unsupervised access" to young persons (under 16s') and so would have to hold an enhanced crb clearance....not many farmers want to spend 38 quid each on those...

Weekend Yachtsman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Weekend Yachtsman said...

" In this day and age nobody employs children in fields"

Except for a few highly-unofficial examples, and of course the families of the farmers.

And this is another example of the pernicious evil of modern over-regulation: children reach school-leaving age (or even colleg-leaving age) without ever having had to get up, put on their boots, and go out to do something not that enjoyable, day after day, regardless of weather, hangover, or their own preferences.

Thus with every year that passes we get an ever-increasing number of whiny, entitled mummy's boys entering the "work"force.

Anonymous said...

Been there, done that. It wasn't peas, it was strawberries - and every bit as back breaking. I would cycle 10 miles to Cheshire's strawberry fields and fill punnets with only the best berries and load these into outers and take the outer to the forman (invariably a woman) for loading on the trailer and my "card was marked" for payment later that day when I left. Then I would cycle the 10 miles home.

Do I look back on this through rose-tints? No I do not, but it taught me what hard work was. That was 40 years ago and I still value a decent day's toil today.

Coney Island

G. Tingey said...

But... "the labourer is worthy of his hire"
It works both ways, which a lot of peopl, especially some scum in the tory party, seem to forget.
[ Note I said "some", not the whole, or all of ...]

Anonymous said...

If you build an economy to fit the people you can, overtime, realise a society that is cohered.

If you want an economy from the people and you don't care how it's realised you will, ovetime, destroy society.


Woodsy42 said...

In my area it was fruit picking during the summer holidays, like your peas paid on weight picked, and they were very long days and hard work.
But it bought me a decent bike to give me independence to get around, and later it helped me buy my first car, and most importantly it kept me fit, off the streets, and taught me both the value of money and what hard manual work felt like (and therefore the impetus to study and avoid a lifetime of it!). As a bonus six weeks of crawling round fields together is plenty of time to get to know people and I am still friends with a couple of the people I worked with.

GaryP said...

My first job was at 13 (20 hours a week) mowing a large housing complex. I was full time by 14 (illegally, I might add) at a grocery.
At sixteen I started in a cotton mill (my mother started there at 14 and my grandfather at 5).
I liked the people I worked with and enjoyed hard work.
I got an education (graduate) so I wouldn't have to work so hard (physically) when I was old.
If we started everyone working hard at an early age, the collapse of civilization (coming soon to a world near you) might not be such a certainty.

Anonymous said...

If a lad wants to work, so be it, forced child labour a different kettle of fish - it is possible to study and work for a living too.

Nothing wrong with hard work either as long as pay is fair.

It should be stressed and stressed again; the Minimum wage means, an increasing immigration influx coupled directly to a correlation with an increase in unemployed British teenage school leavers.

Anonymous said...

You are not getting it.
The UK CAN NOT stop immigration from EU countries.
They are entitled to the SAME minimum wage as other UK citizens.
The MINIMUM age at which a young person can work PART TIME work is 13.
A young person is not allowed to work full time until 16 years of age (minor alterations for theatre/advertising etc)

Entitled to the minimum wage

Workers must be school leaving age (usually 16) or over to get the minimum wage.

Contracts for payments below the minimum wage are not legally binding. The worker is still entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

Workers are also entitled to the minimum wage if they are:

casual labourers, eg someone hired for 1 day
agency workers
workers and homeworkers paid by the number of items they make
trainees, workers on probation
disabled workers
agricultural workers
foreign workers
offshore workers

Apprentices under 19 or in their first year get an apprentice rate.
Not entitled to the minimum wage

The following types of workers aren’t entitled to the minimum wage:

self-employed people
company directors
volunteers or voluntary workers
workers on a government employment programme, eg the Work Programme
family members of the employer living in the employer’s home
workers younger than school leaving age (usually 16)
higher and further education students on a work placement up to 1 year
workers on government pre-apprenticeships schemes
people on the following European Union programmes: Leonardo da Vinci, Youth in Action, Erasmus, Comenius
people working in a Jobcentre Plus Work trial for 6 weeks
embers of the armed forces
share fishermen
people living and working in a religious community

Work experience and internships

You won’t get minimum wage if you’re:

a student doing work experience as part of a higher education courseof compulsory school age (usually 16)
a volunteer or doing voluntary work on a government or European programme
work shadowing

Voluntary work

You’re classed as doing voluntary work if you can only get certain limited benefits (eg reasonable travel or lunch expenses) and you’re working for a:

voluntary organisation or associated fund-raising body
statutory body

Anonymous said...

"A gangmaster has had its licence revoked after a joint operation by Kent police, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to liberate more than 30 Lithuanian workers who are alleged to have been trafficked in to the UK. According to the Guardian newspaper, the company provided teams of migrant workers to dozens of large chicken farms in a chain that supplies premium free range eggs to McDonald's, Tesco, Asda, M&S, and Sainsbury's, however it seems that the chickens were treated better than the workers. The gangmaster company was a member of Freedom Food, the welfare scheme licensed by the RSPCA. According to the newspaper workers were kept in debt bondage, forced to work up to 17 hours a shift, bussed to farms the length of the country to catch hens through the night, sleeping for days at a time only in vans, in some weeks not paid at all, and, according to workers' testimony, kept under control by Lithuanian enforcers with threats of violence and on occasions actual physical assault. The GLA, which was set up to prevent such abuse, admits that extreme exploitation in the supply chain of major fast food names and leading supermarkets remains a serious problem. The GLA head of operations for the south-east, Neil Court, said 'exploitation among Lithuanians and other eastern Europeans appears to be increasing, and in other cases the authority has seen a rise in organised crime, including fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and violence associated with labour abuse.' Mr Court said the allegations in this were "probably some of the worst I have come across in my time at the GLA". The GLA has, however, had its budget for enforcement and inspection slashed by nearly one-fifth by the government"

TrT said...

"Nothing wrong with hard work either as long as pay is fair."

Define fair?

Is it fair to be paid £2 per hour to do a job your employer bills out at £2.05 per hour?

Is it fair to be paid £200 per hour to do a job your employer bills out at £2,500,000 per hour?