A general record of my ongoing battle with all forms of nonsense.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Morality of Employment Law

Completely off the normal topic of this blog, but following probably my fifth argument on Twitter over employment law, I figured I’d explain myself in more than 140 characters.

I’ve experienced employment law on both sides of the fence: as employer and as employee. And while I acknowledge that for some people these laws are a benefit, I personally see them as an attack on my freedom. In my experience, the situation seems far worse for the employee than it is for the employer.

So much so, that as an employee in 2000 I spent around £1200 with an accountant to help me waive my employment “rights”. Why, might you ask, would anyone actually pay money to waive their “rights”?

I wanted to waive, amongst other rights:
  • My “right” to 20 days paid leave (it’s 28 now).
  • My “right” to sick pay, and protection of my job while I’m sick.
  • My “right” to a long drawn out disciplinary procedure if my employer no longer wants to employ me.
  • My “right” to paternity leave and pay.
So why did I want to waive these “rights”?

Let’s use an analogy: TV rentals.

A TV rentals salesman is pitching to you. It’s the perfect TV and you love it. But there are some strange terms and conditions.

Firstly, you don’t get your TV all year round. For 28 days, you can’t have it. You can rent another TV for that time, but you have to keep paying for the first one.

Secondly, the TV may break. If it breaks, you get a slight discount on the rental price while it’s being repaired but you do need to keep paying for it. If the TV is broken for a long time, you are able to get out of the contract but only after a long drawn out process.

Thirdly, the contract lasts until the TV is 65 years old. If you think the TV is no longer up to the task and wish to change it – or you just no longer need it, you’ve got to follow a long drawn out process. You need to fully document this process in advance, and stick to it to the letter or the TV company may sue you. If the TV company no longer wishes to continue renting the TV, they can take it away easily.

Fourthly, the TV company might need the TV back for a while to help make another TV. They can decide to do this at any time, but you need to keep renting the TV at full price for the first 6 weeks of this process, and then at a reduced price for up to a year. At a time decided by the TV company, they can bring the TV back and you need to put it back in your home and continue paying full price. You can rent another TV to cover this period, but of course it will be under the same contract terms.

Now it should be fairly obvious that if you are trying to rent a TV under this contract, then you’re not going to get a great deal of money for it. This is a very silly way to rent TVs.

But, I hear you say. This isn’t about TVs, it’s way more important than that: these are people’s lives.

And you’re right. My life is way more important than a TV and if I’m going to sell a significant portion of it, it is critical that I am able to negotiate the best possible terms.

I can save up for my holidays; I don’t need my employer to do this for me. I can put money aside for when I’m sick. I can imagine nothing more demoralising than turning up to work and demanding pay from someone who no longer wishes to employ me. I will only make the decision to have children if I can pay for them myself.

Waiving these “rights” gives me the negotiating power to demand more of what I do want. For me personally that means more holiday time, flexible hours, better pay, great people to work with and interesting & challenging work.

I’m not negotiating a simple contract to rent a TV; I’m selling a significant portion of my life. When the government forces me to sell under these ludicrous terms that personally offer me little benefit, they’re not controlling and devaluing my TV.

They’re controlling and devaluing my life.

Controlling another person’s life when they are causing no harm is immoral. Controlling another person’s life in a way that significantly devalues it is exceptionally immoral. This is the morality of employment law.

Monday, 18 October 2010

It's a real shame nobody will help stop Boots making false claims

Sadly, the 240 ASA complaints about quack medicine products being sold at Boots got nowhere. Boots took the rather cowardly decision of withdrawing the 3 for the price of 2 offer to take their products outside of the ASA's remit, rather than defend the claims they make about their products.

I didn't think they'd be able to get away with this, though I'm continuing to learn about how the ASA operates. When I complained about the GCC's patient information leaflet last year, the GCC agreed to remove the claims, but initially continued making the claims on a PDF on their website. When I queried the ASA about this, they asked them to remove it even though being online, the PDF was presumably outside their remit.

When I asked about this apparent double standard, the ASA replied as below (I'd skip reading it, it's quite dull):
Dear Simon,

Thank you for your e-mail, I’m sorry for the delay responding to you. As I explained, our remit does not cover material on advertisers own websites where it does not refer to a sales promotion. While I appreciate your concern about these claims and the manner in which Boots have brought their promotion into line with the CAP Code, the ASA (at this time) is not entitled to comment on claims on companies’ own websites (outside of promotions), such as the Ladycare menopause relief magnet you mention.

Leaflets available to download on advertisers websites, when they are also distributed to the public as hard-copy (the contents of which therefore fall within the ASA’s remit) are generally also subject to any ASA Council adjudication on the hard-copy. However, this only applies where the leaflet itself is available to download in identical form to that which is distributed as hard-copy material.

Our main aim in cases such as the original investigation into the objections you raised about numerous claims on Boots’ websites is to ensure claims which fall within our remit are amended or removed. In this instance, Boots agreed to ensure that any claims subject to the CAP Code would in future conform, without a formal adjudication from the ASA Council being necessary and there do not appear to be grounds to challenge this decision, nor material within space governed by our remit which appear to give us grounds to investigate further.

However, claims made on companies own websites is sometimes subject to specific legislation which Consumer Direct (0845 4040506) or the MHRA (020 7084 2000, www.mhra.org.uk) might be able to advise further.

Again, I realise this will disappoint, but thank you for taking the time and trouble to contact us with your concerns.

Kind regards

So I think I've hit a dead end with the ASA. Next stop Trading Standards. The thing is, Trading Standards doesn't really do anything unless a lot of people complain.

And I can't imagine there will be many people who will have come back inspired by the excellent TAM London speakers, ready and willing to do the following:
  • Choose one product to complain about. You might like to complain about the Fanny Magnet that apparently "helps to reduce or completely eliminate the symptoms of menopause". Or maybe about the BioFirm Danish Detox Plan, which they claim "naturally supports the body’s own internal processes of elimination and detoxification." Or maybe you're really angry that they sell "Boots Teething Pain Relief" which claims, in the title, that it is for teething pain relief yet can't possibly work as it's homeopathic.
  • Go the Consumer Direct Complaints Form.
  • Fill it out. I've helped with that below by making it easy to copy & paste some basic info that will be relevant to all complaints.
  • Submit the form.
  • Put a comment below so I can see who did what.
Sadly, I doubt anyone will do this. What a shame.

Helpful advice and information to copy & paste:

Section 1:
Clearly quote any text you believe to be unsupported by robust evidence. Point out that Consumer Protection Regulations 2008 require the company to be able to back up any claims with evidence.

Section 2:
Name of Trader: Boots UK Limited
Address: 1 Thane Road West
Town or City: Nottingham
County: Nottinghamshire
Postcode: NG2 3AA
Telephone Number: 0115 918 2000
Trader's website address: http://www.boots-uk.com
Trader's email address: [Leave blank]

Section 3:
Have you paid for goods or services from this trader?: NO
Leave rest of Section 3 blank.

Section 4:
Please let us know how you heard of Consumer Direct: Website/Internet search.

But as I said, I can't imagine anyone will actually do this and comment to let me know they have done so. Real shame.