Get rid of ‘Then you go to work somewhere else’ – Joop

20-06-2022

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© cc-photo: Joost J Bakker

Statements such as ‘then you just go and work somewhere else’ only exacerbate the problems of low wages and many vacancies. Use another spell for employers to restore balance in society: ‘So you’re just selling the boat, right?’

Four years ago, I was first involved in collective bargaining in a large retail chain. The employees demanded more pay. ‘If people want to earn more, then they have to go and work somewhere else,’ roared the HR manager, who had been instructed by his boss to reduce labor costs. Typical employer rhetoric that we could easily counter with our bargaining team of store employees. We argued that the people who created the high turnover should share in the profits, that it is better for the company to care for people with experience, and above all, the work should pay off.

Over the past year, I have noticed that the statement ‘then you go to work somewhere else’ has been released from the boardrooms and hung over society as a kind of incantation. ‘Do people earn only 11 euros an hour to run a shop? Why do they not ‘just’ go and work somewhere else? ‘, I regularly heard during the strikes at Gall & Gall. Or by the announced mass firing of 250 Primark employees: ‘Can’t they’ just ‘work elsewhere? Tired of vacancies! ‘

Every day, my colleagues and I talk to store employees who love working at Bijenkorf, Hema and Intertoys. They run the stores where we love to buy, they have built a network of colleagues, customers and suppliers. They are committed to rounding the schedules, keeping the store tidy and preventing theft. Often for a minimum wage, ie a little more than 10 euros gross per hour. Again and again, I come across employees who would like to talk to their management in the normal way about more appreciation and more pay. They almost always get zero on the bill. When they gather courage in public opinion for better working conditions and to act, the people shout and tweet like the chorus of a Greek tragedy: ‘Then you go to work somewhere else.’

‘Just go and work somewhere else’ is ‘let them eat cake’ in the crazy job carousel. With emphasis on ‘normal’. As if it goes without saying that people ‘just’ get a better contract elsewhere. Of course, there is nothing wrong with changing jobs once in a while. But let us not pretend that it is ‘normal’ to move from one work to another as a nomad.

The bodies also tend to sing along in this chorus. Primark employees who were threatened with dismissal told me they had a meeting with UWV. “Don’t worry, we can hire you for other work.” While the employees had hoped that UWV would correctly condemn Primark’s position.

A word like ‘maneuverability’ is also becoming modern in the polder. This attitude is a major threat to the quality of work in the sectors with the lowest wages. Because if everyone constantly has to be guided to other work, if every experience is constantly flushed down the toilet, who then provides good service on the terrace, who takes care of logistics and sales in the shops? And: how will wages rise if we continue to chase the people who stand up for it somewhere else?

The saying ‘then you go and work somewhere else’ is gravel for the mill of owners of retail chains and employment agencies. They do not like when employees band together and take to the streets for higher wages. They prefer to keep looking for people who can do the work again for even less money. Their big dream is a huge group of low-wage earners who move from job to job and who they can take advantage of again and again. While HR managers often see problems arise. It’s time for them to say to the shareholders and store owners who complain to them about lower labor costs: ‘Then you just sell the boat.’ Let us applaud them in chorus.

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