It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 28: Should You Ever Disagree With a Fellow Presenter On Air?
9 Jul 2015 at 21:36
Earlier today my LBC colleague James O’Brien discussed the Tube strike on his morning show. He launched an impassioned defence of the strikers and an attack on employers. I could hardly believe what I was hearing, so I thought I’d take him to task on my Drivetime show. He are the two pieces of audio…
Here’s the text, which includes a couple of paras I cut in the live version as we were running over time…
Oh dear James, where do I start? Let’s start from the premise that not all employers get up in the morning thinking ‘how can I exploit my workforce today for maximum advantage’. The different between James O’Brien and me is that so far as I am aware, he’s never run a business, never employed anyone, never created wealth. I have. I’ve started or run seven businesses over the years and I treat people who work for me as colleagues not peasants who I can exploit. I’ve probably employed more than 400 people over the years and I’m confident enough to say that not a single one of them would think they have been treated badly by me or any company I have run.
I don’t pretend that London Underground have behaved perfectly in this dispute, as my interview with their director Nick Brown demonstrated yesterday, but nor are they the ogres that Aslef and the RMT try to pretend. The fact is LU have let the transport unions get away with blue murder over the years. They have caved in time after time after they’ve been held to ransom. Perhaps this dispute shows they are determined that this won’t happen in the future. If so. Good.
This dispute isn’t about an annual pay rise. It isn’t about that old favourite of the unions, health and safety. It’s about so-called work life balance. Well let’s look, shall we, at the work life balance of a London underground worker. Tube drivers work an average of 36 hours a week for a starting salary of close on £50,000, rising to £60,000 over 5 years, and with 43 days holiday. So plenty of time for a so-called work life balance and the money to pay for it too.
Contrast this with a police officer or a firefighter who work more than 5 hours a week with a starting salary of £19,000 a year and 22-28 days off. Or a nurse. Or a teacher. I could go on. Well good on the tube drivers. I don’t begrudge them a penny of it. Well done to their unions for negotiating it.
Of course not all London underground workers are so well paid. Station staff get around £30000 with supervisors earning around £40,000. Some might say their jobs were far more challenging than pushing a lever to drive a semi automated train.
This dispute is all about the luddite attitude of the RMT and ASLEF. They want to throw a spanner in the works of the night tube which is the biggest development on the Underground for years. And it’s not as if London Underground have said that its workers will not gain from this innovation. There will be hundreds of new jobs – more potential union members, you might think. And they will get a 2% pay hike and a two and a half grand one off bonus.
And yes, James O’Brien, an employer is indeed entitled to alter the time that you work. And they’re under no obligation to offer any extra recompense, especially if it doesn’t involve working extra hours. In this case LU have offered recompense in the form of one off bonus payments, and look what thanks they’ve got for it. Ask a police officer, or a nurse if they have any sympathy for the bleatings we have heard from the transport unions. All they are being asked to do is on three or four weeks a year to alter their shift patterns and to work three or four weekends a year. Is that really something that is so outrageous?
I was asked to present Sunday mornings on LBC a few years ago. And I did it for eighteen months. Did I welcome the fact that it would ruin my weekends? No I didn’t. Did I go on strike? No I didn’t. And this was every weekend, not just six or seven times a year. I did it because it was a reasonable request from the company that pays me well to do my job. Just like LU pay tube drivers well to do their job. And just like they have made a perfectly reasonable request.
James O’Brien says that tube drivers are suffering. Give me a break. He says that we’ve been reduced to craven, forelock tugging peasants. What utter utter bunkum. And patronising bunkum at that.
These aren’t downtrodden workers scratching around for a living. They aren’t migrants who come to this country and are exploited by a gangmaster at two quid an hour. These are people on double the average wage in this country. The only people who are suffering are the travelling public whose taxes and fares pay those salaries and who find themselves massively inconvenienced today.
I’m not opposed to all strikes. I had great sympathy with the firefighters, for example, for their fight to protect the pensions they thought they had signed up for. But that’s totally different to this. James reckons that employers nowadays have more control over our lives than at any point since the Second World War. Again, an easy soundbite which some will lap up, but it is of course simplistic rubbish. We have equal pay, the 48 hour week, the minimum wage, minimum holiday entitlement, maternity pay, paternity pay, parental leave. None of these things were available in 1974 let alone 1945.
Yes there are rogue employers, just as there are rogue employees. Yes there are greedy employers who pay themselves far too much. But we’ve got to a state in our society where anyone who runs a business, takes a risk, makes a profit is seen by some in our society as a symptom of what’s wrong with this country rayher than something to celebrate. It should be the reverse.
When employers get things wrong, we shouldn’t be afraid to say so but we shouldn’t get it into our heads that the first thing they do when they get out of bed in the morning is to think ‘how can I shaft my workforce today’. Should we James?
The response to this on twitter and on the phones was massive. Even George Galloway got involved, accusing my of attacking a colleague. No, it wasn’t an attack, it was a disagreement. I have a very high regard for James, as he knows, but that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with him if I think he’s wrong. I did it recently with Nick Ferrari when I didn’t agree with something I heard him say on the Mediterranean migrant issue. I see absolutely no problem with doing so. On a talk radio station healthy debate is the very essence of what we do. Why shouldn’t presenters disagree and indulge in a bit of creative tension. Of course we all have egos. We all like to think we’re right, but we all ought to be big enough to take it when a colleague holds different views. James O’Brien is a big man and can take anything I ever throw at him. And you know what? He’s very welcome to throw it back.