Sunday, 31 January 2010

TRADE SECRETS

It's better late than never, as they say, but it's come to my attention that the Trades Union Congress (TUC) released a report over a year ago in which they concluded that the construction industry is one work sector which 'routinely' breaks employment law by hiring and exploiting migrant workers. Being aware of how central the construction industry is to Kent's economy, I felt obliged to discuss this in relation to apprenticeships for young people.

Firstly though, it's worth mentioning that TUC's report defines working in the construction industry as being "precarious work that places people at risk of continuing poverty and injustice resulting from an imbalance of power in the employer-worker relationship." None of this surprises me, of course. After all, it's a well-known fact that immigrant workers are often exploited for cheap labour, as BBC's Newsnight discovered when they found out that some London hotels were paying foreign workers below the minimum wage.

But I would go so far as to argue that young people are similarly exploited by tradesmen when they undertake apprenticeships. I have a couple of friends who do apprenticeship schemes in the construction industry, one of whom is only paid £80 a week, which is the minimum amount permitted by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). Since this friend of mine occasionally works long hours, sometimes he's estimated that he's essentially being paid little more than £1.50 an hour and is treated like a dogsbody, receiving very little one-to-one training.

The rules for pay with regard to apprenticeships are truly scandalous, enabling many tradesmen to sidestep the minimum wage rule and essentially making young apprentices work for peanuts. I mean, sure, they're trainees, but – if you think about it – so are college students. And yet, most people who attend college are eligible for EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance, £30 per week).

I'm reasoning that since the wages for apprenticeships are often so low it might be palatable for the government to consider extending the EMA to include apprenticeship schemes (possibly introducing an AMA, an Apprenticeship Maintenance Allowance, which would top-up the exceptionally low earnings that apprentices receive). At least that would enable young apprentices not to struggle and toil for so little money.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) did another study on apprenticeships more recently (Decent Pay for Apprentices) and concluded that the minimum rate should ideally be increased to £110 a week. This would make it roughly in line with the minimum wage youth rate (£3.40), which begs the question why employers are allowed to get away with paying £80 a week when it flouts the legal requirement for youngsters of a certain age to be paid a minimum wage rate for their labour. How did that slip through the net?

The apprenticeship problem is easily resolvable. Merely topping up their earnings with an AMA would remedy the plight of so many young workers in the construction industry who merely want to learn a trade but are scuppered by long hours and low pay, many of whom are committed to slugging out their guts for years and becoming victims of – as TUC defines it – an "imbalance of power in the employer-worker relationship." Since so many of my friends have lots of nightmarish tales to tell of apprenticeship schemes gone awry, something clearly needs to be done.

Friday, 22 January 2010

JAMIE T AND SYMPATHY

I apologize if it ain't your cup of cha, but I'm delighted to read in the Thanet Times that indie-punk hip hop maestro Jamie T has had the music video for his forthcoming single "Emily's Heart" filmed in Thanet. Filmed on location in Broadstairs, Viking Bay will feature in the vid, as does the Victoria Gardens bandstand, the Continental Corner Deli and Morelli’s Cafe on the seafront, and stars child actor Felix Light, no doubt portraying the poor young scallywag in the song who gets his heart broken.

I don't think Jamie T himself features in it, which is a great shame, as it seems like this video is more in the vein of "When the Sun Goes Down" by the Arctic Monkeys (i.e. treated more like a short film – like Scummy Man – than a traditional music video). Obviously, the video itself hasn't leaked yet, but I embedded a YouTube vid of Jamie T's BBC Radio 1 live lounge performance of "Chaka Demus" to whet your appetite.

As for Jamie T himself... well, the Mercury Prize-nominated artist is probably likely to appeal to those who like the idea of mixing Mike Skinner's lyrical observations with the Arctic Monkeys' approach to live instrumentation, only imbued with a more rapid-fire vocal delivery (akin to most MCs or rappers). To my memory, I think Jamie T also has a mixed-race lineup for his band, so obvious parallels will be drawn with The Specials, which I'm sure most Thanet locals will appreciate as being a positive thing.

Needless to say, not everybody's likely to appreciate the music itself, but I do, as I think Jamie T's probably one of the most musically unique acts on the indie scene at the moment, blending hip hop, folk, soul, indie and punk, so the fact that this music video is filmed locally is a real feather in our cap, in my opinion. But it's not the first time a hip young indie band has filmed a music video here, of course.

Most notably, I remember that ska band The Dead 60s filmed the video for "The Last Resort" here in Margate, prominently juxtaposing the grey concrete claustrophobia of Arlington House with the ironic 'Dreamland Welcomes You' sign. It seems to me like Thanet has become a first port-of-call for film production companies if they want a social deprivation hotspot to exploit, particularly if the lyrical content of the songs deals in socially aware platitudes ("The Last Resort" calling a non-specific seaside town "a disgrace, a total wasteland," etc.).

Not that it's a cheap shot at our expense, of course, I think it's great that Thanet's not simply being left to fester in a tangle of cobwebs and forgotten about. The more exposure we get, the better, in my view. That way, we can use that exposure - either positive or negative - to improve our little town's prospects.

Besides, I'm hoping that Jamie T's music video might usher in even more top draw music bookings for Paul Palmer at the Margate Winter Gardens to capitalize upon. I'm sure he will: the man seems to have the Midas touch at the moment. After all, if Jamie T's promotional people are more than happy to feature Thanet in his music video then it would doubtlessly be fantabulous if Jamie T could be booked to grace the stages of a local music venue here in equal measure.

One thing's for sure though – he won't be performing in The Britannia pub, as I'm sure you've all heard the sad news of its closure. I used to be really fond of The Britannia. I often used to pop in there for a cheeky pint to enjoy the local bands, or nipped in to play pool with one of my mates who had an unfortunate habit of playing "Rape Me" by Nirvana on the jukebox, possibly to incite the local punters. It's amazing how many funny looks you get when a song comes on imploring the listener to rape him. How we escaped in one piece I'll never know.

But I'm very glad to see that a Facebook group calling for the revival of The Britannia pub is taking off, accruing some 1,100 members, so I'm hopeful that it'll be revived as a music venue at some point in the near future. It just goes to show how important social networking has truly become, even on a local level. Since we're living in a world where all people care about is numbers and profit margins, the only way people can often get their voices heard is by setting up a Facebook group, building up a following and simply hoping for the best.

Obviously, once you hit the 1,000 mark, you technically can't be ignored, so all we've gotta do is play the waiting game until some enterprising chap snaps up The Britannia, reopens it and honours the Facebook group's wishes. In either case, it's good to see that people care enough about our local music scene to speak out, particularly if it expresses our wish to keep our town musically vibrant. As a consequence, I'm sure this Jamie T music video will further our cause considerably. Vive la revolution!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

THE GREAT GRITTISH BASS PORKY


This advert contains a fib. Either that, or a porky. Not a lie, you understand, a lie could be construed as an attempt to deliberately mislead the public and I certainly don't want to levy accusations like that on the grand old institution of Grittish Bass. No, sir, not me. You see, a porky or a fib is somewhat different to a lie, it's a bit more tame, something mildly defensable which doesn't quite hold up to scrutiny if you call it into question.

I am, of course, referring to Grittish Bass's promise on last month's TV advertisement that if your boiler breaks down over the festive season: "You can reach us everyday, even over Christmas." OK, so how do they define 'reach'? Do they mean you can 'reach' somebody on the telephone, speaking to a customer service operative? If so, that's hardly gonna rectify the problem of a broken boiler, especially if that's the limit of all they can do. If the events in the advert are to believed, it appears to suggest that if your boiler breaks on, say, Christmas Day, a boiler repair man will arrive at the family home, fix it, then bugger off to enjoy his turkey dinner.

Needless to say, the only reason I'm mentioning this is that last month, just before Christmas, the boiler in our house broke. Yes, that's right, our new house, the one we've only just moved into. Grittish Bass swiftly arranged for a boiler repair man to visit us on December 22nd. He told me that our fan was preventing the boiler from igniting, andthat a new fan needed to be ordered. There was also a leaky pipe which he said he'd look at the following day. Fair enough, I thought.

The boiler repair man came back on December 23rd, with a new fan, which he promptly fitted. At that point, he claimed to have got the boiler working, stating that he could have left it like that and revisited us after Christmas to fix the minor problem of the leaky pipe. As it happened, he switched the boiler off, attempted to fix the leaky pipe, dropped a clip down the back of the unit, lost it, effing and blinding to himself in the kitchen, later dropping the bombshell to me that he couldn't fix the boiler because the leaky pipe quite unforeseeably had to be ordered and replaced too.

"I'm really sorry," he said, "I'm not going to be able to come back to fix your boiler until December 29th now." I remembered the TV advertisement, naively thinking that Grittish Bass might honour their promise. "But your advert said that boilers can be fixed over the Christmas period," I said. The boiler repair man visibly winced. "We do come out to fix boilers over Christmas, but in a lot of cases, there's very little we can actually do, especially if parts need to be replaced because we can't order the new bits in the post because of public holidays, etc."

Resigned to the fate of having to spend Christmas freezing my balls off (without hot water, I must add), I told him that I understood, and bid him adieu. Thankfully, the boiler repair man did honour his pledge to return on December 29th, and the issue is resolved now, so I hold no grudges. After all, Grittish Bass were fairly apt in fixing the boiler, so I'm grateful for the fact that it's now working for New Year.

It's just a bloody shame that their TV advertisement led me to believe that I wouldn't have to endure Christmas Day (or Boxing Day) without any sodding heating. How misleading is that? As a result, I didn't get to roast my chestnuts by the radiator, as is the seasonal custom in my family. Let's hope next Christmas goes a bit more smoothly and my chestnuts roast in warmer circumstances, eh?