Are we entering a new era when the Corona Virus has finally passed and we all return to our ‘normal’ lives with an attitude laced with care and compassion? Will lessons be learned? Are we entering an era when greed is a thing of the past and we will all be looking out for others in addition to ourselves?
In the last few days Laing O’Rourke’s senior construction people have announced they are to take a 30 per cent pay cut during the virus crisis. Eureka. They have seen the light. Meeting the need instead of greed. Could this be true?
The Company also announced that some workers would also be off work (furloughing) at 80 per cent under the government-funded scheme. So would the cynical say that the Company’s top brass are announcing a pay cut to offset any anger from their financially pressured workers. Maybe so, maybe not. But will the executives’ voluntary pay cut include bonuses, share deals and any other little ‘goodies’ that boardroom ‘boys and girls’ invariably hand out to each other during the course of a year. Only those at the top know the answers.
Elsewhere, executives have behaved responsibly during this crisis. But some have shown their true colours. Richard Branson, the corporate buccaneer, who loves to smile sweetly and embrace the image of a ‘well meaning guru’, has announced that thousands of his Virgin Atlantic staff have been forced to take eight weeks unpaid leave and sick pay has been reduced from six months full pay to 12 weeks. And Virgin will offer staff the option of six to 12 months unpaid sabbaticals. That sounds like a great idea……. you have no money to do anything but you can be on a sabbatical which sounds so much better than jobless.
Mike Ashley, another business guru, owns Newcastle United football club. He has ordered the club to stop paying staff and ordered many onto furlough. But the club’s football stars, who earn about £100 million, remain on full pay. This is the same Ashley who lobbied the government to keep his Sports Direct shops open during the virus crisis because they were an ‘essential service’. This ‘essential service’ sells trainers and track suits and Ashley was happy to expose his staff to risks of contamination. Ashley suffered a backlash from the public and has now shut his shops. He blamed the announcement on poor communications from his company and guess who is ultimately responsible for the communications……yes Mr Ashley.
In the brewing industry, Tim Martin, who owns JD Wetherspoon, showed his caring nature when he failed to assure staff that they would be paid while their pubs were shut and he suggested that they might want to consider taking up jobs at Tesco and other supermarkets to cover wage losses during the crisis. What a nice gesture!
These ‘gurus’ were acting like something out of Orwell’s Animal Farm as a time when the nation, one evening, was encouraged to applaud from their windows the brave and vital actions of NHS workers. The applause was well earned but delivered at a time when all our lives were under threat. Surely, we will now realise how crucial the NHS and other public services are. Surely, we will now realise how, in normal times when we are safe, we give our applause to millionaire or billionaire celebrities who are immersed in providing us with froth and not life-saving skills.
In recent days we have seen headlines pondering whether the Premier League will be able to complete the football season in view of the virus crisis. Surely, we now realise how superficial football and other forms of entertainment are. Surely, we now realise where the priorities should be. The choice is ours. Will our post-virus era return to honouring the likes of Branson and Ashley and paying out millions to the celebrities? Or will we rip up the old values and start afresh. Teach children that the real superstars save lives and provide care when it matters. That lesson must be learned by all of us. Fat cats in the boardroom and elsewhere should take second place to those who save and protect our lives. Will that lesson be learned……watch this space!
31st March 2020