Contracting – Then and Now!

A group of cleaners at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been put under disciplinary investigation by their employers after raising the issue of their low pay in a letter to the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond.

“Foreign Office cleaners disciplined after writing to Philip Hammond for pay increase”
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/19/foreign-office-cleaners-interserve-living-wage

While being perfectly within their rights to seek better remuneration, it could be said that the way they went about it was by no means the best.

They should have first tried to handle with their employer, rather than go outside the company. This is true for two reasons:- a) both their employer and the contracting company would expect it to be handled that way, and b) the contracting company would not expect to take any action unless it could be shown that their employer was at fault.

In this case, the result was very bad for the contract workers.

Airbus A300This reminded me of a spell in Hamburg, Germany, in 1976, when I was working on contract for MBB, Finkenwerde. There was a group of us Brits working on contract there, but the group was split between two different agencies:- Premmit Associates, and Bothwick International. Premmit was the more experienced agency by far, which soon became apparent.

Payment was into a local bank in Finkenwerder every 14 days against signed time records. The problem with Bothwick was that they didn’t seem to be aware of the fact that public holidays in Germany were different to those in the UK, and several times this resulted in a non-availability of money in the bank. Representations were made to Bothwick, who promised to improve, but in fact didn’t. The situation reached a crisis point on one weekend when I had planned to visit my family in England, but had no money with which to do it!

Others suffered similar crises, especially families with children, who would suddenly find they had no budget for the weekend, as the payment had been delayed.

Of course, the people on contract with Premmit, had no such problems whatsoever, as Premmit was organised properly.

This presented a solution to the problem as follows:-

I requested an interview with the Personnel Dept. at MBB, (the client company), explained the situation, and explained the measures that had been taken to correct matters. The Personnel Manager was very understanding, and even offered to lend money to those left in dire straits until a permanent fix to the problem was available.

The fix was to remove Bothwick International from the list of approved agencies, and to allow all contractors who had been working with them to transfer to Premmit.

For the Germans it was simple enough. They did not want disgruntled contract staff on the premises – it would interfere with the work schedule. And time was always tight!

airbus-finkenwerder

As I had no intention of staying longer than the initial 6-month contract, I didn’t make the transfer, but most of the others did. The type of work we were doing was aircraft wiring diagrams, which was technically a long way below my normal work on computers. I couldn’t stay there too long without a permanent penalty in employment prospects, even though the salary was attractive.

(In spite of that, we found out that the German permanent staff workers were on a higher salary than we were, and they didn’t have the inconvenience of working in another country.)

In general, the agencies were not trusted by the working population. They were regarded as greedy swine who were taking an exorbitant rate out of our salaries just for being in the right place at the right time, or knowing a little bit more than the rest of us.

This made it almost compulsory to find out exactly how much of a rake-off they were getting from the client company, and anyone that took too much off the top soon found they were having trouble to find recruits. Word soon got around on the jungle telegraph, and greedy so-and-so’s were black-listed.

Agencies do have value, but not if the costs are too high. Agencies working with people abroad should be able to manage comfortably with a 21% mark-up. If working solely within the UK, the mark-up should be no more than 15%. If you find yourself working with an agency that is charging more than that, ask for a better rate. If you don’t get it – MOVE!

Enlightened agencies will have realised that to keep their clients happy, they have to look after the staff they supply. This is borne out by the present situation resulting from the Hamburg episode above – Premmit Associates, and Bothwick International.

You can find Premmit Associates at http://premmit.co.uk/index.html
The company still exists, some 40 years later, with the same man still in charge – Reginald Gourgey. The nature of the company may have changed, but its success depends on the vision and capability of this one man.

Bothwick International, on the other hand, no longer exists. See https://companycheck.co.uk/company/01148576/BOTHWICK-INTERNATIONAL-LIMITED/financial-accounts
where you will find that the company has been dissolved, and there are no accounts available.

Knowing the people involved, I find that this is no surprise at all!

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