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Job skills, worker rights and youth unemployment

by on June 7, 2016

You may have heard the interview this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme which featured Jeremy Baker,  described as ‘a retail analyst and affiliate professor at ESCP Europe Business School’. He was interviewed as part of a feature on the working conditions at Sports Direct (quite a lot about the latter was subsequently uncovered during the course of this morning – quite a lot of it pretty shocking). But I wanted to focus on the connection that Jeremy Baker sought to make between worker rights and youth unemployment.

The interview which was conducted by John Humphrys is worth a listen (available here via the BBC website).

Baker argued that giving what he described as ‘middle class benefits’ to workers who had just joined an organization would lead to high youth unemployment. Specifically he said: “Where you get the full middle class benefits right from day one when you start and you don’t give full value to the employer… the employer therefore doesn’t hire so many people so you get high youth unemployment… At some point you work your way up… you start, you get a job, you learn industrial skills and then you can leave and can get a job in the normal middle class way with rewards“.

There’s been some pretty trenchant criticism on social media, much of relating to his assertions about who should qualify for worker rights and his implication that these were for the middle classes. I would also challenge his notion that those starting a new job (whatever their age, though he seemed to imply this related to young workers) have absolutely no skills and don’t give ‘full value’ to their employers. That’s why organizations have pay scales. But having to learn some skills on the job doesn’t justify any of those rates of pay being below the legal minimum or indeed withholding worker rights.

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