Who Else Won The Week (12 January 2020)

I posted one winner just an hour ago, so here is my second candidate. I watched the news on Friday night, and after that I had had to totally re-jig my nomination, although in the end I have decided to present both. It is just a pity that this story happened to coincide with Northern Ireland.

The BBC produces two similar programmes. One of them is called Newswatch, the other called Points of View. Both are basically viewer-feedback programmes (The way you covered such-and-such a story was really dumb, etc.), however Newswatch is far lower key than the primetime Points of View.

The BBC says that because of this difference, they pay the presenter of Points of View, a guy called Jeremy Vine, £3,000 per episode. That’s about USD 4,000. Not megabucks, but remember this is public service broadcasting.

They also decided to pay the presenter of Newswatch, a woman called Samira Ahmed, just (just!) £450 per episode. I’ll save you the math – one show paid more than six times more than the other.

When Ahmed found this out, she not surprisingly felt undervalued. The programmes were very similar, so therefore the skills required to present them were similar, surely? So, Ahmed took the BBC to an employment tribunal, where she argued that they were doing the same job, they should be paid the same.

Ahmed contested that she was paid less than Vine just on the basis of her gender.

The BBC, in response, argued that the higher profile of Vine’s show meant that it required a presenter with a touch of je ne sais quoi – star quality to pull in the punters. Vine had that, but Ahmed didn’t.

Auntie Beeb’s argument was unconvincing, as it happens, and Friday, the tribunal found in Ahmed’s favour – she is indeed doing the same job and should therefore be paid the same. This opens the door not only to an Ahmed claim for lost back-pay, which she claims is £700,000 (USD 900,000), but paves the way for many other claimants, not just presenters but behind-the-scenes jobs too. As I write, the BBC is considering an appeal, although I just heard a commentator (who may or may not have been biased) saying that the report was so damning, I wouldn’t bother.

And so as soon as I heard the news, I had a dilemma. My second choice this week is therefore Samira Ahmed. Not for the money, although it never hurts. Not for being granted equality, which she has a right to expect in any case. But for being the first. That took guts. I hope other people feel inspired to follow in this lady’s footsteps.

I suppose the only regrettable part of this story is that Vine’s name appears in it. Because he isn’t relevant – in fact, Vine has himself made gestures on the subject of equal pay. If that is what Vine commands for his work, then good luck to him – I can’t blame somebody for trying to provide as best they can for their family. An unfortunate coincidence.

Who Won The Week (12 January 2020)

I have Fandango to thank for this title – he has been posting regularly on this subject from his west-coast-USA vantage point. I am myself interested in current affairs, and normally have some nonsense or other to spout about one of the UK’s topical news stories. So, I like to join in. Maybe there’s something in your world that you’d like to post about?

I thought when I started posting on this theme that there would be weeks when I couldn’t think of a winner. That’ll probably still be the case. What I didn’t expect, however, was to have a week where there were multiple winners. They are both very topical and certainly both very postworthy, so I will post on both stories and let you decide.

My first winner this week really is a big deal. I was going to relegate it in favour of my other winner, but… it is that big a deal. I’m referring to a top story in the UK these last few days, and goes to the people of Northern Ireland.

The island of Ireland has an eventful history. It was a colony of the UK’s for more than five hundred years. In that time there were lots of rebellions against British rule, and the rebellion which finally made the difference was a hundred years ago, which ultimately resulted in the creation of an independent Irish state.

This new state did not cover the whole of the island, however. A partition was drawn up which meant the north-east corner of the island remained British. It was one of those impositions which didn’t really satisfy anybody, but most people could live with it.

The reason that the north-east corner was singled out is again steeped in history. While most of the island was catholic, there were mass migrations, mainly from Scottish Presbyterians, into that part of the island, dating from the 1600s. The result was a large population there who were protestant and who considered themselves as British as anybody still on the mainland. Over the years this population became so numerous it outweighed the locals. And so when the Irish gained independence, the island was split into two – Ireland (an independent state) and Norhern Ireland (which was to remain a province of the UK). That north-east corner of the island forms a large part of the traditional Irish region of Ulster, which is where that name comes from.

But the two new countries had very different views of the world. The two extremes were the Nationalists (i.e. a single Irish nation) and the Unionists (a union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the UK), with most people somewhere in between. Not only was there sentiment by Nationalists that the two countries shold be unified, but in Northern Ireland, the Unionists held the balance of power and intended to keep it that way. Discrimination against Nationalists there was rife – for example you could not do a particular job if you happened to be the wrong religion. Go figure! So much so that the province erupted into violence in 1970.

Whilst the war is now over, the divisions still remain. The agreement which ended it, the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), did little more than to paper over the cracks. While most of us think of politics as people competing to give us better healthcare, or better education, politics in Northern Ireland still splits along sectarian (Nationalist/Unionist) lines.

One of the legacies of the GFA was a Northern Irish Assembly, which largely allowed the province to self-govern. My own thought is that it was probably for the best. Calls for a straightforward unification have subsided in recent years in favour of developing a pluralistic society. And in the UK, Northern Ireland was never central to people’s thinking. I’d guess that most of the UK has only a passing interest in what happens there.

And so, we had this assembly in a society where divisions still exist. Unsurprisingly, the assembly was also split along those same lines. In fact, the divisions are so great, that three years ago the two sides decided to stop talking to each other altogether, and walk out. So the assembly got suspended. Three years ago. It has not convened since.

Now, as a UK taxpayer, I am mildly pissed. But no more so than when other taxpayer money is spent badly. If I were a Northern Ireland resident, however, I would be very pissed indeed. Because the guy I elected to represent me had decided not to represent me! That the politicians’ first resort was to stomp out of the room rather than to work out a way of talking to the other side. The first resort should be to try to move things forward.

But – and this is where the different sects are so entrenched – the people of Northern Ireland voted again for those same politicians. The assembly collapsed in January 2017, and there have been several elections since, one election to this assembly itself, plus six or seven more where the public could have rejected the warring parties. In our general election a month ago, thank goodness, the main protagonists both lost ground, but not enough ground for them to fall by the wayside.

The people who won the 2017 Assembly elections are still paid their normal salary – anything between £50k-£120k (USD 65k-160k) – despite having not even taken their places. An option was for the British government to take back direct control, but the tension is such that this would have just fanned the flames. I think even they were reluctant to do this, happier instead to let the bureaucracy bumble along, without any particular direction.

It all sounds very schoolyard-ish. Johnny did this. Ah, but Jimmy did that… But frankly, if Northern Irish people continue to vote for these people, then they deserve what they get. If I voted for somebody to represent me, I would at least want them to turn up to represent me!

If you’re in the UK, you will possibly know why I chose this subject today. If you’re not, then I guess the story will not have been so prominent. As you might imagine, there have been various attempts to re-float this assembly, the latest of which was last week. These are not just attempts by the UK government, but collaborative attempts by both Britain and Ireland. Everybody else is aware of the problem that is caused when there is a vacuum, everybody else wants there to be self-government in Northern Ireland. Everybody, it seems, except the Northern Irish themselves.

However, the latest plan, so far, has been received positively – our recent General Election now means that the Unionists have a far weaker hand, and I can’t help thinking that this must be a factor in their return. The new UK Government has the numbers to hold a gun to their heads – get back talking, or no money for the province. Whether or not this was the case, the assembly met Saturday again, for the first time in three years. There is lots of unease, still, but cautious optimism.

Now, the Conservatives full name is the Conservative and Unionist Party, which gives a strong hint where they ultimately stand. Whatever else they might agree to out of pragmatism, they view the province as British territory. I, fortunately, have no such allegiances. I’d be happy if we cut ourselves loose from each other – make Northern Ireland a country in its own right, independent of both the UK and of Ireland. If they then choose to elect a government which declines to govern, that is their problem.

The Caramel Crunch (12 January 2020)

Over at Caramel (Learner at Love) [a misnomer if ever there was one – she seems like an out-and-out expert to me 🙂], CARAMEL has started a new prompt. I’d like to see her prompt do well, and I had some time today to write a post, so here we go…

The prompts are called the Caramel Crunch and so far are centered around a moral question. Her question this week is here, but for your convenience I shall repeat her question.

You can’t find work in your local area that pays enough to support your family in your current lifestyle. But you have been offered a well paid job hundreds of miles away from home. It will mean being away from your family for extended periods but it will help you to pay for their education and health expenses.

I must admit I have never had this exact experience, but two come close.

My first experience was about ten years into my career. I had not long chosen the path of being a consultant, and was only with my second client. I lived around thirty miles away from the client’s site, so commuted morning and night.

However the client also had another supplier. The supplier was basically a body shop – they charged handsomely to put people in place. I’m generalising severely here, but the quality of such people was usually not very good, because the company used a large number of fresh graduates who were still learning the trade. In fact, one of the reasons the company brought me in was to provide some expertise and direction.

The people who worked for this body shop were mobile, their contracts said that the body shop could ask them to work anywhere. That clause would never have been acceptable to me, but we all make our choices. Having said that, when they were sent to a client’s site, it was normally to the same site for a year or two, so assignments were quite long-term. Their clients were usually big companies, this particular client was a High Street bank.

The people from the body shop were both men and women, single or married, children or not. Every Monday, they had to travel to the site, they would put in a week’s work, and then on Fridays they would go back home.

So I was able to observe this pattern of working at close quarters.

What can I say? People did it, they even seemed to enjoy it, for the most part. I think there was an element of freedom from Monday – Thursday, then the security of family at weekends. Indeed, for some of them, Thursday was very much going-out night, and many of the staff would enjoy the night clubs in the local city before going home the next day. Over time, these people became friends, and I joined in the tradition. In fact it was on one of these drunken Thursday nights out that I eventually met my future wife.

So whilst I was careful in any of my contracts to reject any kind of movement which wasn’t mutual (I was quite happy to agree to a mutuality clause, knowing full well that I would never agree to a client’s request), some people were prepared to do that, not only to do it, but to enjoy it.

My second anecdote did actually involve me. When I had a few more years under my belt, I decided to work up in London, and eventually had a string of clients up there. London is a nice, round 100 miles from home.

My situation differs from the question because I did not have to go to London. I went there because that was where the head offices were. The work was generally better paid, and a lot more interesting. In IT, there are basically two-and-a-half world capitals: London, New York and to a lesser extent, Sydney. So, London was where it all happened. But ultimately, working there was a choice.

I chose to commute between home and London. The journey took 2-2½ hours, each way. Each day. So while I suppose I did work away, my choice was to spend time each day on the train. For me it was good – it was obviously long hours but I was able to mix the hustle and bustle of the city with life in the country. There was nothing better than waking up on Saturday or Sunday and to be staring out at fields.

Incidentally, many of my clients were international companies. They would sometimes ask me to go to meetings at sites in other countries. Probably, 95% of these I ducked – I was travelling enough already! It never came up, but you can imagine that if somebody had asked me to work way for a prolonged period, I would’ve sooner just work someplace else – I was fortunate to be in a position to do so.

So, the question. Let’s remind myself again.

You can’t find work in your local area that pays enough to support your family in your current lifestyle. But you have been offered a well paid job hundreds of miles away from home. It will mean being away from your family for extended periods but it will help you to pay for their education and health expenses.

I think I’d certainly be prepared to give it a chance. I am not sure I’d want this arrangement to be particularly lengthy, but I wouldn’t reject it out of hand. It can be quite a tolerable experience. A bit of distance might well be good for a relationship, in any case. Might make people realise what they’re missing.