Is Britain's labour force divided by class?

The Manufacturing, Science, Finance (MSF) trade union, which represents skilled and professional workers, published the results of a survey in July 1997, which indicate that Britain's workforce is divided in terms of status, "perks", and modes of address between staff and managers. Furthermore, the British subsidiaries of companies from elsewhere in Europe were found to be more status-orientated than were British-owned companies.

As the debate continues over the need to treat employees as valued assets, the MSF survey of employees, published on 11 July 1997, indicates that within companies there is a very wide divide between management and other staff. The table below shows the extent to which separate, and better, facilities and conditions are provided for senior managers

Separate facilities for senior managers % of companies
Dining facilities 17
Health insurance scheme 38
Separate showers/toilets 23
Longer holidays 29

The survey found that a number of regions competed for the honour of having the most stratified workforce;

  • 35% of companies in the south-east provided chauffeur-driven cars for senior managers;
  • 28% of companies in the south-west have separate canteen facilities; and
  • the West Midlands leads the league table for separate toilets.

More surprisingly, the British subsidiaries of companies based elsewhere in Europe were more likely to: have reserved parking spaces for senior management; provide chauffeur-driven cars; and have separate canteen facilities, toilets and showers. Overall, European-owned companies were more stratified in terms of status and American-owned companies were seen to be more egalitarian.

It was found that health workers were those most likely to use formal titles of address between staff and managers, while the information technology and voluntary sectors were the most informal. Again, the US companies were the most informal in terms of address. As well as being the most formal, European companies were also more likely to have employees wear special clothing or uniforms.

While half of the respondents said that there is some progress, in that informal discussions take place between employees and immediate management, this was somewhat offset by the finding that 27% of employees reported having been "sometimes" shouted at by managers, and 38% said that they had been openly criticised by management.

In the health service, 22% of respondents felt that the provision of benefits and perks for senior managers had increased over the past five years. The increase was even larger in the electrical and education and training industries.

The MSF general secretary, Roger Lyons, said that: "Until we move from this Victorian style "upstairs downstairs" segregation of facilities and benefits, how can we work together to meet the challenges of the next century, when staff and management are separated at the shower door?"

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