Thursday, 13 November 2014

Taking the Biscuit: United Biscuits, McVitie's, Job Insecurity, Living Wages, Household Anxieties

Taking the Biscuit

© London Intelligence, November 2014

Peel off the wrapper.
Dunk in your tea.
Rich Tea.
Mini Cheddars.
You might’ve munched many of these biscuits, writes Paul Coleman.
Churned out from a factory first built in 1902 in Harlesden, north-west London.
Made by employees of United Biscuits - founded in 1948 - working across a 24-7 shift pattern.
United Biscuits once swallowed McVitie’s, the biscuit and Jaffa Cakes maker.
McVitie’s, a company that first produced Digestives in 1892.
And then added chocolate to the Digestives in 1925 – before introducing Jaffa Cakes to a grateful world in 1927.

But a £2 billion deal in autumn 2014 sees United Biscuits - and its McVitie’s brands - bought by Yildiz, a privately owned global food group based in Turkey.
Rhys McCarthy, an official with trade union UNITE, says assurances will be sought from the new owners about the futures of United Biscuit’s 4,600 UK workers.
Yildiz chairman Murat √úlker says: “We’re very excited to work with United Biscuits’ strong and experienced management team to achieve our aim of building the world’s leading biscuits business.”

Assurances, though, are required
Especially by London workers worried about their job security in London’s low wage real economy.
And, in a food industry where takeover promises prove indigestibly hollow.
For instance, when US cheese slice group Kraft took over famous UK chocolate maker Cadbury in 2010.
Kraft promised no compulsory factory redundancies for two years. But 200 jobs were sliced a year later.

You can see why London workers worry.
Over the cost of rising food and energy.
And, about the way high train fares voraciously gobble money constantly topped onto travel cards.
And, that’s not including worries over soaring rents and property prices.

None of these anxieties are mitigated by a tiny rise in wages above the official inflation rate of 1.2% in early November – a blip seized on by politicians heralding ‘progress’ in their stat economy but sneezed at by real people surviving in the real economy.
True, the London Living Wage – a rate set by the Greater London Authority and currently paid voluntarily by about 1,000 firms – rose by 4% to £9.15 an hour.
(Outside London, the UK Living Wage rises by 2.6% to £7.85 per hour).
Yet 5.28 million workers earn less than the Living Wages.
And, the number of people on the national minimum wage of £6.50 per hour continues to soar – especially in catering, care homes, hotels, and retail.
With taxpayers topping up low-earnings through benefits.

The minimum wage is now the norm.
No longer a floor for an unlucky few.
Wage stagnation and job insecurity grind their way into people’s lives.
Devouring life chances.
Depositing only a bitter aftermath.
Of daily anxieties – reflected little in daily newspapers.

Many people are working two and three jobs just to make ends meet – whilst forlornly hoping to meet the end of these anxieties.
Meanwhile, bonus greedy City bankers - buoyed since 2009 by taxpayer bailouts and by Quantitative Easing - receive a November slap on their wrists for crookedly fixing money markets.
Mealy-mouthed politicians do little or nothing about this inequality.
Often, only Church leaders speak out.
“A healthy, active civil society is reliant on people volunteering their time and enthusiasm for the good of others,” says the Reverend Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’s Piccadilly.
“We risk losing that great British tradition if our families are too troubled with tackling household expenditure.
Hard working people should have enough to live, not simply survive.”

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, November 2014

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