Opinion

Charlie Mullins: Hot weather shouldn't mean striking, just simple and sensible changes

4 min read

06 July 2015

There are some guarantees when the temperature starts to rise in Britain. The papers are full of photos of zoo animals eating ice lollies, people who usually whinge about the rain and cold start to complain about the heat, and the Trade Unions give the impression that every business in the country is running a Victorian sweatshop.

As soon as a heatwave was on the horizon, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) turned up the temperature by spouting a load of hot air about “cooling measures” that firms need to take to protect their workforce. 

The TUC has been campaigning for a change in safety regulations to introduce a maximum temperature of 30 degrees centigrade, or 27 degrees for those doing strenuous work – with employers forced to adopt these so-called cooling measures when temperatures in the workplace reach 24 degrees.

Of course, there’s something in what the TUC is saying, but it’s about a common sense relationship between employer and employee and not something can become a trigger for a unionised workforce to down tools and head for the picket line. Although I do wonder, if that was the case, would the TUC stump up for plenty sunscreen and cold drinks for members while they wave their placards?

The TUC’s advice to business is a veiled criticism that suggests that we don’t care about our workers and perpetuates the myth that we’re 19th century, whip-cracking taskmasters getting our pound of sweating flesh from our staff.

The world is a much different place than the 1970s-obsessed unions seem to inhabit and modern business owners react better to these kinds of situations than they’re usually given credit for. 

My column in Real Business last week highlighted the importance of looking after your employees’ wellbeing to support productivity through simple and common-sense activities. The same applies when the temperature is more akin to Marbella than Macclesfield.

Read more from Charlie Mullins: 

There is always a run on electric fans for offices that don’t have air-conditioning and water cooler bottle deliveries ramp up when the sun comes out for a sustained period. And, I only had to take a short walk to a shop near our depot to see a local business owner stocking up on ice lollies and drinks for his team – which is a scene I’m sure is replicated up and down the country.

For the TUC to suggest workers should turn up to work in vests and shorts and make the place look like a Bondi Beach party is just ridiculous. At Pimlico Plumbers we allow our-office based staff to dress down if the weather gets a bit extreme, but again, it’s all about common sense and keeping to an acceptable dress code. 

However, our engineers will never turn up at a job in flip flops and board shorts. Our uniform makes our business stand out and is also part of our strict adherence to health and safety. Everyone one of our plumbers, roofers, electricians, drain specialists and carpenters completely understand this position and they apply one of the best traits of Britishness there is, they just get on with it.

I heard a TV engineer on the radio the other day saying exactly the same thing. Wearing shorts and espadrilles might be more suited to the weather, but not for scaling the outside of a building or a telegraph pole.

These snapshots of common sense make me wonder whether it’s the unions that have let the heat get to them while businesses are doing their best to keep their cool.