Work as Journey, Not Destination

No, not that Journey!

In preparing for this post I realized a surprising thing about myself : I expect the stories to be bad.

Okay, it shouldn’t be a total surprise. I mentioned in my Swedes post (which turned out to be slightly mistaken) that I have a tendency to be seen as a negative person. Mostly because the topics I discuss here aren’t particularly heartwarming or involve the sot of radical change I’d like.

And at least on that second front, this story isn’t much different.

But it was still refreshing to read:

…a European court has ruled that that time spent traveling to and from work should count as actual work, with companies paying employees for their time accordingly. The judgment applies to workers without a fixed office, such as many electricians, care workers, and sale reps, and will affect millions of public and private sector employees across the European Union.

I just got done with a bunch of traveling and I definitely wish someone was paying me to do it throughout. To be totally fair though, I did get some donations (for which I am very grateful!) along the way. But it isn’t like my work for C4SS was compensated in proportion to the amount of money spent. On the other hand, I didn’t expect it to be totally compensated and it was a great excuse to see some friends I’d never otherwise see.

I guess what I’m saying is that travel is totally not about the journey.

The journey sucks.

Slogging through bus stop after bus stop is tiring. Being in a bus for hours upon hours is flat out exhausting when you mix having restless leg syndrome, irregular sleep patterns and non-ideal conditions. Whether it’s the Wi-Fi not working, lacking motivation to read, being too tired to focus but too awake to fall back asleep, etc. There was always a situation that made me feel like I had no idea what I was doing.

To bring it back for a second, let’s look at the specifics of the case:

The ruling stems from a legal case in Spain involving Tyco, a company that installs security systems. Tyco shut down its regional offices in 2011, and so employees had to travel from home to work appointments.

“The fact that the workers begin and finish the journeys at their homes stems directly from the decision of their employer to abolish the regional offices and not from the desire of the workers themselves,” said the court (pdf).

It’s slightly disappointing to me that the ruling is so narrow. And obviously I’d prefer this victory to have come from workers collaborating and participating in direct action. Still, sometimes reforms can be a good thing in its own right. I don’t think it should be our central effort or something we should really count on, but it can be nice when it happens.

What’s interesting to me here is that the court ruled in the workers favor because of the employer power over the workers. If this is seen as a problem though, why not the whole workplace? Why not the contracts workers sign from the get go? These contracts are explicitly based on unequal power dynamics after all. It’s nice that this court is ruling in favor of the workers and in the process cutting off an important branch, but that’s not enough to get to the heart of the matter.

The desires of workers are being respected here and that’s important. I’m certainly glad that the workers are getting their say in court. But if we’re really going to respect the autonomy of workers in the workplace (or wherever they may roam) then we may want to aim a bit more broadly and a bit more deeply.

Nonetheless this move is something to be celebrated. Workers should be compensated if their travels are such an integral part of their journey to “work itself” as it were. If people suffer through an hour or so commute and choose to do that for a given firm, shouldn’t their loyalty be rewarded in some sense? I mean, while we still have these sorts of firms around, people may as get a less shitty deal if possible.

That’s not to say we stop there or to keep relying on organizations like the EU to make it happen. But it’s still nice to see that the workers of this company, at least, are getting some well-deserved extra recognition.

On what basis did the courts do this? On the basis of “health and safety” of the workers, which as we know, work is an abundantly safe enterprise at present. There are certainly no health risks associated with working long hours or the stress you get at work, or the exhaustion you might feel.

Sorry, I’m doing that thing where I’m sarcastic and bitter.

The decision especially makes sense when you look at how much these workers are traveling:

The workers each have the use of a company vehicle for travelling every day from their homes to the various places of work and to return home at the end of the day. The distances between the workers’ homes and
the places where they are to carry out work vary a great deal and are sometimes more than 100 kilometres, taking up to three hours to drive.

For those of us back in the good ol’ USA, that’s over 60 miles.

Tyco, by the way, was previously counting this time as rest time. Goodness knows on the Greyhounds that I went on I felt plenty restful all of the time. See, that was a joke. I wasn’t restful and I wasn’t even driving. Imagine driving all of those hours and miles by yourself and then having that called your “rest” time.

Meanwhile the workers can’t really go anywhere else except where they’re being told to by their boss(es). Imagine walking to the store for your friend, buying something for them, walking back and then they keep the change. Okay, that’s not a direct comparison, but I think the end result for both is a feeling of being cheated. And that’s what is important here, the fact that these bosses were basically cheating their workers out of the pay they really should’ve gotten.

I’m sure there are some economic folks who might argue that this’ll lead to lower employment, or some people being let go. I’m not sure how it’ll work at Tyco but it’d be interested to see an update in a few months of how the company is doing.

…What do you mean I should do that? What do I look like? A specialist on work?

…Don’t answer that.


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Also, we’ll be at the Boston Anarchist Book Fair this weekend! Come and check it out if you’re in the area!

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