One example of what’s wrong with British journalism

by Peter Goddard

Yesterday’s Guardian featured the ‘shocking’ news that staff on P&O Cruises will not be paid tips directly, but will receive a bonus related to performance.

The headline for this story makes great hay from the staff in question being paid just 75p an hour. Below the line, the audience is outraged, with much Cameron-bashing and righteous left wing scorn denouncing these ‘slave wages’.

But if we actually read the article rather than simply scandalise ourselves with the headline, a more complex story emerges.

The staff in question hail from India and the Philippines, not the UK.

And they work on boats in international waters, not the UK.

So, non-British employees working in a non-British location are paid wages that, by British standards, are very low. This seems rather less scandalous.

Assuming the cruise company provides their staff with room and board (and this is just one of the relevant facts that the article does not provide), the value of the 75p an hour wage bears no relation to the buying power of that money in Europe and therefore tells us very little about how well or badly these workers are being treated.

There is a discussion to be had about what the appropriate measure of wage-value might be for a workplace that is literally beyond national borders, but this article does not consider it.

Instead, it clings firmly to the 75p figure, providing no information about median or mean incomes in the regions from which these staff hail, or even the various countries which their ships visit.

To compound the sense of a job half done, the only quotes it provides are from cruise guests describing how the staff appeared to feel, rather than bothering to ask any of the staff themselves.

The truth is that this article tells us precisely nothing about whether this is represents good or bad value for the individuals concerned.

Of course, it is perfectly possible that this is still bad deal for them. The point is that the article doesn’t provide the information we need to make that assessment.

Anyone who has ever been on holiday abroad understands the simple fact that a pound has a different value in different countries. And thanks to regular reminders from international charities that, for example, a donation of just a few pounds to a developing nation can buy an eye operation that would cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds in the UK, we are aware that these disparities can be extreme.

So anybody reading this article, who is not already predisposed to outrage for the downtrodden worker, is likely to wonder whether the truth lies.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber is subject to no such wondering. He jumps right in, quoted in the article as denouncing the “disgraceful practice,” and “exploitative rates of pay.”

It is possible he has been misquoted, or that he has the required information to understand that this is indeed exploitation, but none of this appears in print.

What does appear in print is that this “disgraceful practice” is actually standard for the industry, which suggests to the neutral reader that P&O is at the very least not a uniquely miserly employer.

Meanwhile, the right-wing reader will shrug and declare ‘market forces’ and the left-wing reader will enjoy a righteous fume at the vampiric employer. The newspaper, for its part, will enjoy the appearance of caring for the less well-off whilst harvesting the clicks and comments that are its life blood.

But from the point of view of someone who wants a viable left wing in this country, this piece is just another small contribution to the ongoing narrative that the left wing is economically illiterate, incapable of understanding a global economy in which a British minimum wage is irrelevant to workers not living or working in this country.

None of this is to suggest there is no exploitation occurring, or that there is no merit in examining the practices of this industry.

But an article shrieking exploitation and offering 75p an hour as its justification achieves none of these things.

It is about as legitimate as the Daily Mail claiming that these same staff are ‘stealing’ British jobs, then calculating their salary and benefits at over 50k a year on the grounds that it includes a free cruise worth over £1,000 a week.

Admittedly, that does sound exactly like the sort of thing the Mail would do, but we’re supposed to be better than them, aren’t we?

Peter Goddard is a sales and marketing consultant

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10 Responses to “One example of what’s wrong with British journalism”

  1. swatantra says:

    This could neatly tie in with the Govts avowed intention of bringing in variable wage rates across the country for doing literally the same job. Only it’ll operate in International Waters. A measure no doubt supported by the Lib Dems. So a Social Worker in Yeovil will get paid less than one in Brent.
    ’75p’? I’ve heard that sum mentioned somewhere before, but it was I think it was tied in with a lot of other non-visable benefits which made people a lot better off although they didn’t realise it.

  2. Ravi says:

    The current rupee rate is 82rupees to a £1, so the 75p in terms of a average hotel worker is perhaps 75p to £7.50 per hour.
    A average living wage in urban India per day is around £2 per day, so getting £5 per day is a good wage and there is no expenses or even tax to pay.
    So we in the west like our M&S pure cotton boxer shorts at a £1, its a bargain that’s because in india it cost 10p to make. If we are prepared to pay min wage of £5hr the expect to pay £20 for a M&S shorts. The basic clothing bill in the UK will sky rocket and then the unions and workers demand higher wages because the cost of our living has gone up. Just see how the increase in crude oil has effected us all, so increase in wages in India will have a effect on us too. We simply can’t have it both ways.
    This is all sound bit media and politics, great real people!

  3. Stephen G. says:

    So it’s ok if the staff receive third world wages while customers/passengers pay first world prices? That is exploitative and that’s why Brendan Barber has hit the nail on the end.

    AS Ravi points out, we can’t have both ways – we have to choose whose side we’re on.

  4. Les Abbey says:

    Peter you show your ignorance of the British marine industry. In the past many of these jobs would have been done by British mariners and staff. Our own John Prescott would be an example. Companies like P&O do employ third world workers because they are cheap labour, usually using job agencies. They can take no pride in that and for that they should be scorned.

  5. swatantra says:

    Its an important point, relative wages.
    For a worker in India it has to be relative to what the average Indian’s wage is. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if for example British Gas or Micosoft paid their call centre workers the same wages what British or American workers were paid although they did the same job, and it could be argued that Indian Call Centre workers worked even harder than their Western counterparts.
    When the SwawmiNarayan Hindu temple in Neasden was being built Indian workers were imported to do the carvings and there was a move to get them paid Britsh wages not Indian wages, in which case they would have made a fortune and gone home to India Rupeemillionaires and would probably skew the whole socio-economic structure of the villages they came from and bring misery to them as Rupeemillionaires.
    For an Indian settled in Britain for a length of time paying taxes and for their own board and lodgings, of course they deserve being paid standard Britsh wages.

  6. Very good article. It is worth identifying statistics from the ISF Wages and Condition Survey, which says that an Able Seaman domiciled in the Phillipines earns $1100 a month.

    Meanwhile, according to the Philippines Bureau of Labour and Employment Statistics, a Doctor or a Teacher earns an average of $196 a month – something considered there to provide a reasonable standard of living.

  7. Henrik says:

    @Les Abbey – could you explain to me just why anyone who didn’t have to – the Royal Navy, say – would employ British mariners at roughly 10x the cost for a very similar product?

    Just asking, like.

  8. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    My only comment on this was it took a little prompting to help the media discover what a total joke MP Tom Watson is. But they got there with help from Guido too watching him cynically trying to cash in, as he did with his expenses and wasn’t it interesting how Od Minibrand is now distancing himself from Tom. A very, very wise move if a bit clumsy.

    So will Od in future claim to be the Titan who challenged Murdoch (whilst bravely hiding behind the less than wise Tom Watson MP) or will he just start crawling away quietly?

    It’s going to be interesting finding out isn’t it?

  9. Mike Homfray says:

    What Stephen said. This is a classic example of the problem with globalisation and why it can never be liberating or a force for progress.

  10. uglyfatbloke says:

    Different wages in different parts of the country for the same work is clearly unacceptable to anyone with any decency… when does the campaign to abolish London weighting start?

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