Opinion

How are National Weeks and National Days helping SMEs?

5 min read

09 November 2012

Opposed to the Living Wage and disillusioned by the EU's stance on quotas, Jan Cavelle asks whether we can have a “Government Shouldn't Interfere With Business” Day.

It was Equal Pay Day earlier this week, Living Wage Week. Is anyone else suffering from a jaundice of these National Days for this and National Weeks for that? Red Nose Day is about all I can cope with. The rest are blending into some grey meaningless jumble.

While I had a quick rant about the Living Wage recently, I am re-stirred by Mr Milliband having leapt on this bandwagon to set an even higher figure for this than the Tories, wanting a figure of £7.45. I confessed then to having a band of trainee workers at less than either figure. 

If I adopted Mr Milliband’s figure, it would add at least five per cent to my wage bill. Over half of our gross goes on wages – it doesn’t take the greatest economist to work out that either jobs would have to go, or this rise would be passed on to the customer. The result if we passed it on? Huge leaps in inflation – exactly what the governments are trying to avoid.

Perhaps Milliband should also look across the Channel, where the beleaguered French are this week rapidly back-pedalling on the areas that have crippled French employers for so long and are bringing in new slashed payroll taxes available for firms who keep people in jobs in an effort to salvage what is left of their employers. 

The IMF was also heard to be advising that the French should limit rises to the minimum wage in future in its recommendations to breathe some life back into the French employment world. Mr Ayrault, the French PM, is quoted as saying “France needs a new model”. Watch and learn, Mr Milliband. Their old one won’t work for the British either.

Equal Pay Day sets me off every year. I listen to the Fawcett Society, the campaigner for Gender Equality who appear currently to be somewhat losing the odd battle, what with the EU rejecting imposing quota plans in boardrooms, and the Society’s current claim that the cuts in the public sector have caused a widening of the gap in pay between men and women, as more women are forced into the private sector where the gap is traditionally larger.

In fairness, I am all for women being paid the same if they do the same job as men. In fact, while I may be non-PC on the pay front, my management team is equal in both sex. I have a much higher proportion of women in the offices than men. On the shop floor, this week celebrates our very first female employee in some 20 years of business. For the record, she is being paid exactly the same as her male equivalent. Such inequality will of course bring the equality guys banging on my door. 

However, the fact remains provable that I have had virtually no female applicants over the years. There is a dearth of female cabinet makers and paint sprayers. It can’t also be overlooked that the work is very physical and does involve heavy lifting and however much attention we pay to manual handling and proper techniques, fewer women are strong enough to do it. 

More importantly though, it is utterly clear from the level of applications that a nano proportion of women aspire to do these jobs. What is sauce for the goose is definitely not necessarily sauce for the gander and vice versa.

Nor – for the record – is it ever going to be practical to encourage home working when you are passing a piece of furniture through several hands a day, using heavy plant. Nothing underlines to me more what rubbish enforced anything is. You have to go with what you have got. 

And during all this, politicians still rave on about SMEs being the future of the economy.

All is all, I have a new suggestion – can we have a “Government Shouldn’t Interfere With Business” Day – I will be right at the front, waiving my banner.

Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.