Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

How much is your job worth?

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The new economics foundation has today published a provocative document looking at the real value to society of a range of different professions in the attempt to explore issues around how our pay relates to ‘worth’ as well as the inter-relationship between the work that we do and the impact on wider society.

The report compares six professions and ten ‘myths’ about pay and work and, while it won’t surprise (given its stated purpose to ‘shatter some myths about work and value’) that nef’s methodology delivers some justification for Adair Turner’s views of the ‘socially useless’ nature of large swathes of banking activity, nor that cleaners and waste recycling workers are engaged in work that is far more socially useful, the report nevertheless produces some highly interesting points for policy-makers. Its central conclusion, that:

We urgently need to align incentives with the social and environmental value that are generated by the workforce,

is one that (with an appropriate grammatical correction!) needs further promulgation in a world in which pay is set at one end of the market by peers and, at the other, by a race to the bottom driven by the need to make savings on outsourced contracts, whether in the public or the private sector, and where work is dominated by vulnerable workers rather than ones which share a belief that they are ‘masters of the universe’.

The difficulty that remains is that, in a privatised, globalised world, where issues including wages have been handed over to the frequently distorting hand of neo-liberalist perspectives, reining market-induced excess back in again demands intervention and regulation and will increasingly demand internationally-co-ordinated action. Difficult things to achieve in practice and ones that are likely to require clear and concerted explanations if they are to be ‘popular’ in action, and not just on paper in individual opinion polls.

Nevertheless, the report is a timely one in that, in a post-crisis world, priorities will have to be set for public finances; having a framework for why public services need to be maintained, why there is a need for a commission to explore high wages and why decisions have been made over taxation policy, to name but three examples, is an essential first step in setting out why such priorities have been set – and indeed, why they are important. It is also likely to require a government that has confidence about its decisions.

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Written by Calvin

14/12/2009 at 4:56 pm

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