Thursday, July 17, 2008

Own Up To Your Earnings

I know how much Hollywood actors earn, I know how much David Beckham* and Gordon Brown* earn. I even know how much Brown put on expenses to have his second home painted. I know how much pop stars and fat cat bosses of multinationals earn. I even know what their bonuses were. The other day I read that BBC executive directors are getting payrises of up to £107,000. In papers and magazines we constantly read about famous/rich peoples earnings. But people where I work, who I've sat next to for years? I have no idea what they earn. All I know is it's more than me.

The very rich, and the very poor – the Asda shelf stackers and the McJobbers, the minimum wagers (£5.52ph) – we all know what they earn. But workmates, colleagues – people I spend 8 hours a day with, five days a week with, fifty weeks a year with, and socialise with, many of them won't tell what they earn (of course, some do). The one's who don't, usually earn a lot more than me – do they not tell because they feel guilty or because they've been told not to? The ones who do tell, usually earn the same, or less – and don't care who knows. Helen* (54, mother of three, divorced) earns just £14,000 as a purchase ledger clerk (five tube stops along, and with a decent company, she'd get at least double).

There used to be a joke (I haven't heard it for years and it never was that funny) that the first thing an American asked a Brit when they met was what they earned. An American never asked me but I guess the point was Americans were more forthcoming about the whole pay issue than us uptight English. I've never understood the problem but it seems some office colleagues would rather discuss their (dismal) sex lives than their salary. It seems a completely mis-guided sense of company loyalty – it is essentially making the company earn more and the individual earn less. Companies of course encourage this secrecy – if we all knew what each other earned there'd be a revolution, or – heaven forbid – fair pay for all.

It is hoped that the Government's new (July 2008) proposals to prevent companies having pay secrecy clauses and to let employees discuss their pay openly will prevent such large pay discrepancies between colleagues doing essentially the same job within the same company.

*Real names used.

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