The recent tribunal victory on holiday pay and overtime feels like a thoroughly unexpected piece of good news. We should never rely on judges, courts and tribunals to protect our rights, but there’s no reason to ignore our good luck when things do go in our favour. In case you’ve missed it, this news means that workers who regularly work overtime will have this taken into consideration when calculating their holiday pay – and, importantly, that anyone who’s worked overtime in the recent past might be able to make a claim for back payments.
Of course, employers will be scrambling to find ways to get out of paying an extra penny, and the state will be backing them every step of the way – Vince Cable has already declared that the government will “set up a task force of representatives from government and business to discuss how we can limit the impact on business”. That is to say, politicians and bosses sitting round a table to make sure that workers carry on getting cheated out of money we’re entitled to. Our legal rights are only ever worth anything if we have the organisational strength on the ground to enforce them, so the most interesting question about this story is whether it has the potential to spread organisation and confidence among rank-and-file workers. At the most basic level, this is a story that it’d be good to start conversations with our co-workers about: it’s a convenient, practical way to open up conversations about our shared material interests, how much of our lives we sell to our bosses and how little we get back in return, not at a hopelessly abstract level but in very immediate terms. Things like the TUC’s pay rise demonstration can feel like quite vague political gestures, the relevance of this to our own lives is immediately obvious, and what it says about the bigger picture is worth discussing as well: at a time when workers across the UK are divided along all kinds of lines, and various forms of divide-and-rule ideology are deepening their hold, this issue is one that draws a straightforward line between workers and our bosses, and the reaction of the government has made it clear what side they’re on.
Getting extra money from our employers is a good thing, and the chance to do so shouldn’t be missed; getting together with our co-workers to discuss how we’re going to get extra money from our employers, the ways they’re likely to try and cheat us out of it, and what we can do to support each other against our bosses’ tricks, could yet be the start of something really interesting. As Vince Cable’s made clear, our rulers are already discussing how to react to this news and make sure that they get the best possible outcome from their perspective; it would be a mistake if we fail to do the same.