Thursday, November 04, 2010

Worst. Analogy. EVER.

Simon at Adventures In Nonsense has confused me. Like every opinionated SOB out there, I tend to expect certain things of people based on whether their opinions are similar to mine. Simon campaigns against pseudo-science and nonsense. His all-too-infrequent posts are filled with gems like this (in which he pesters Boots with email after email about how much non-water there is in their homeopathic remedies, if you can't be bothered clicking through). As Cheryl Cole might say, that means he's right up mah street.

And then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like this. It's not quite the stupidest thing on the internet, but it's the stupidest thing I've ever read from someone I usually agree with. Feel free to make up your own minds, but I think an argument so flawed, backed up with logic so twisted and morality so dubious deserves a step-by-step takedown.

After a brief preamble, he begins:
I’ve experienced employment law on both sides of the fence: as employer and as employee. And while I acknowledge that for some people these laws are a benefit, I personally see them as an attack on my freedom. In my experience, the situation seems far worse for the employee than it is for the employer.
This is a bold statement to make. Nothing wrong with bold statements. But really? Employment law as a whole makes things 'far worse' for the employee than for the employer?
So much so, that as an employee in 2000 I spent around £1200 with an accountant to help me waive my employment “rights”. Why, might you ask, would anyone actually pay money to waive their “rights”?
I might. I might also ask what an accountant can do about all these horrible, horrible rights you were lumbered with. Nice to know you can afford to splash out £1,200 on their services though.
I wanted to waive, amongst other rights:
  • My “right” to 20 days paid leave (it’s 28 now).
  • My “right” to sick pay, and protection of my job while I’m sick.
  • My “right” to a long drawn out disciplinary procedure if my employer no longer wants to employ me.
  • My “right” to paternity leave and pay.
So why did I want to waive these “rights”?
Ooh, it's getting interesting now. As an employee, he didn't want sick pay or paid holidays. Why indeed? I'm all ears, I bet this is going to be brilliant...
Let’s use an analogy: TV rentals.
A TV rentals salesman is pitching to you. It’s the perfect TV and you love it. But there are some strange terms and conditions.
Here is where my heart began to sink.
Firstly, you don’t get your TV all year round. For 28 days, you can’t have it. You can rent another TV for that time, but you have to keep paying for the first one. 
Secondly, the TV may break. If it breaks, you get a slight discount on the rental price while it’s being repaired but you do need to keep paying for it. If the TV is broken for a long time, you are able to get out of the contract but only after a long drawn out process.
Thirdly, the contract lasts until the TV is 65 years old. If you think the TV is no longer up to the task and wish to change it – or you just no longer need it, you’ve got to follow a long drawn out process. You need to fully document this process in advance, and stick to it to the letter or the TV company may sue you. If the TV company no longer wishes to continue renting the TV, they can take it away easily.
Fourthly, the TV company might need the TV back for a while to help make another TV. They can decide to do this at any time, but you need to keep renting the TV at full price for the first 6 weeks of this process, and then at a reduced price for up to a year. At a time decided by the TV company, they can bring the TV back and you need to put it back in your home and continue paying full price. You can rent another TV to cover this period, but of course it will be under the same contract terms.
Now it should be fairly obvious that if you are trying to rent a TV under this contract, then you’re not going to get a great deal of money for it. This is a very silly way to rent TVs.
But, I hear you say. This isn’t about TVs, it’s way more important than that: these are people’s lives.
Phew. Glad you heard me say that.
And you’re right. My life is way more important than a TV and if I’m going to sell a significant portion of it, it is critical that I am able to negotiate the best possible terms.
Hang on a minute though, are you the owner of the TV or are you renting it? Or are you the TV? Leaving aside the awful, awful analogy, you started off by saying how things were 'far worse' for the employee as a result of these laws, then you spoke from the viewpoint of the employer for a while about how rubbish it would be if TVs had paternity leave, now you're back to bemoaning the lot of the poor employee.

You hit the nail on the head when you said people's lives are way more important than TV rentals. Then, sadly, you turned the hammer round, prised the nail out and poked yourself square in the eyeball with it. See, the problem is not simply that 'people are not TVs', the problem is also that EMPLOYING IS NOT RENTING. My boss doesn't own me for the 37.5 hours a week I spend working for him, just as you didn't own the people who worked for you when you were the boss. The power relationship in the workplace is a unique situation and no amount of twisting your clumsy analogy will make it fit.
I can save up for my holidays; I don’t need my employer to do this for me. I can put money aside for when I’m sick. I can imagine nothing more demoralising than turning up to work and demanding pay from someone who no longer wishes to employ me. I will only make the decision to have children if I can pay for them myself.
Ah, 'only have kids if you can pay for them yourself'. You're like an old friend, good to see you again. Where was it I saw you last? Oh yes, Jeremy Cunting Kyle, that's where. Maternity leave exists in order to give women two things: Time to recover from the physical and mental trauma of new motherhood; and the chance to spend a few precious months nurturing their young. It does NOT exist to 'pay for' the child. Paternity leave is a relatively modern invention which gives men time to support their partners just after they've given birth and to spend some time with their young. It does NOT exist to 'pay for' the child. Children are bloody expensive - they cost a lot more than a few weeks' paid leave.

And you'll 'put money aside' for when you're sick? Good luck with that. How much money? How sick are you planning on getting?
Waiving these “rights” gives me the negotiating power to demand more of what I do want. For me personally that means more holiday time, flexible hours, better pay, great people to work with and interesting & challenging work.
Well, bully for you. No, really, well done. You can obviously afford to play fast and loose with those rights. Sorry, "rights".
I’m not negotiating a simple contract to rent a TV; I’m selling a significant portion of my life.
No you're NOT. You have real ISSUES if you think your boss owns you. Never mind fighting to give up your rights as an employee - maybe try finding a job where you don't see yourself as being property of your employer.
When the government forces me to sell under these ludicrous terms that personally offer me little benefit, they’re not controlling and devaluing my TV.
Oh, back on TVs, are we? Not everything has to be like renting a TV, you know. Do you behave like this in everyday life? When you get on a bus, do you spend the whole journey complaining to the driver that you wouldn't rent a TV if it stopped every few minutes to let a few more people watch it, and you had to stop watching after a while because it was time to change the driv... I mean, cathode ray tube?

Come to think of it, I think I was on the next table to you in a Beefeater this one time - I heard someone complaining to the waitress that you wouldn't rent a TV if it was covered in gravy.
They’re controlling and devaluing my life. Controlling another person’s life when they are causing no harm is immoral. Controlling another person’s life in a way that significantly devalues it is exceptionally immoral. This is the morality of employment law.
Which sixth form debating society drop-out are you plagiarising this shit from?

Simon, if you want to believe you live in a world where mental illness and cancer and break-ups and car crashes and recessions and unwanted pregnancy don't happen, join the fucking club. And if you want to chance your arm and sell your rights down the river, knock yourself out. You've got what you wanted anyway, thanks to your accountant and your £1,200. But please don't demand that the rest of us join you in your great big gamble. Some of us happen to think we've got too much to lose.


  1. Spot on - I´m glad to see it´s not just me!

  2. The analogy works because making anything more expensive for the person you're negotiating with neccessarily weakens your negotiating position. The costs of these benefits is as much on the employer as the employee. You'll get less for your TV if you rent it with expensive demands, and you'll get less for your time if you sell it with expensive demands.

    Your ending is particularly interesting.

    You say "please don't demand the rest of us join you in your great gamble". I'm not demanding that anyone else should do anything. This was the entire point of my post.

    Some people have decided that they want these preferences in their employment contract. I don't have a problem with that. It's only when people demand, using the force of government, that everyone else has to select these preferences too, that I have a problem.

  3. The analogy DOESN'T work because when I apply for a job, I am not negotiating to sell my time. Like I say above, the problem with what you wrote is not simply that comparing people with TVs doesn't stand up - it's that a contract of employment is fundamentally different to a contract for sale of goods.

    "Some people have decided that they want these preferences in their employment contract. I don't have a problem with that." How magnanimous of you.

    So, as an employer, if you had two candidates and one of them wanted these 'preferences' while the other one didn't, which would you favour? The second, right? After all, you wouldn't rent a TV if blahdy blahdy fucking BLAH.

    But then parents, women of childbearing age and people with a susceptibility to illness, to name but three groups, would be faced with an unconscionable choice: Sign away their holiday, maternity leave or sick pay; or not work at all.

    No government and no law can please all the people all the time. Sometimes they have to do the most good they can while minimising the bad.

    A direct question: How do you 'put money aside' as a contingency for future illness? Anything could happen in the future, anyone can get sick and sometimes they can't work for a long, long time.

  4. Of course, as an employer I'd choose the cheapest option if two candidates were otherwise equal. However, it wouldn't quite work that way. But that doesn't mean that people would face the choices you're suggesting.

    If I had the choice between a candidate for £25K who wanted sick/maternity pay and one for £30K who didn't, then the option isn't as clear.

    You're assuming it's case of these benefits or no benefits, whereas that's simply not the case. The market dictates the amount the employer needs to pay in total, it's only how the employer pays that is under govt control.

    You asked how I put money aside, I generally save it in ISAs but I'm not sure that's relevant. You can get insurance for long term sick. I'm not suggesting the employee should always pay it, but the employer paying it is far from the only option.

    While I do sympathise with the risks faced by parents, the ill etc, what is your justification for forcibly moving the risks onto the employer rather than to anyone else? Is it solely because you've identified someone who has got the money to pay it and can be easily bullied by government, or is there a more ethical reason?

    How do you propose to deal with issues such as small companies struggling to make a profit who are told to risk bankruptcy by employing a woman of childbearing age, but not given the option not to?

  5. Last question first: That's capitalism, I'm afraid. Bigger, richer companies will do better than smaller companies for all sorts of reasons. Maybe the government should help small businesses with their sick/maternity pay, but I can't see that being a vote-winner any time soon, sadly.

    The employer, big or small, takes on the risk of their employee getting sick because their employee works for them. It's part of the deal, as far as I'm concerned. This could be my bias as an employee, but the majority of people are employees and you can't please all the people blahdy blahdy blah.

    I'm glad you recognise that people need insurance against long-term sickness. But what you are proposing is that we give people the choice of increasing their salary at the expense of sick pay - and then giving an unspecified amount of that increase straight to an insurance company.

    Soon enough, because of the market, the equation will reach equilibrium and the amount of the salary increase will equal the average cost of the insurance. Any more and everyone will take the pay rise, to the detriment of the employer, and any lower and nobody will take it, again to the detriment of the employer. Who benefits? The insurance company, and nobody else.

    I'm not concerned with your personal finance arrangements. I was just pointing out that however much we put aside, it might turn out to not be enough.

  6. I couldn't agree more Tom. Whilst usually a voice of reason Simon appears to have had a moment of madness with his post about the evils of employment law.