Brown Brothers, a meat company based in Dumfriesshire, apparently makes its factory workers clock off every time they need to use the toilet. And since they also have to take off all their protective clothing, sprint upstairs and back, and then put the clothing back on, this adds up to a lot of time off the job (or on it, depending on your point of view). The union Unite reckons these are ‘Dickensian working practices’ (though there weren’t many hairnets to remove in Dickens’ time) and accused the firm of invading its employees’ privacy.
There is, of course, an explanation for this seemingly draconian stance. Brown Brothers MD Martin Godfrey admitted that workers were forced to clock off, but told the BBC that it was all agreed as part of a pay deal designed to minimise disruption to the production line. To stop things grinding to a halt when someone pops off to the facility for 15 minutes with a newspaper, staff were awarded extra pay in exchange for keeping toilet breaks to specific times of the day. ‘They have already been paid to manage their own lavatorial affairs,’ says Godfrey primly, in one of the finest quotes ever to grace this website.
Since Brown Brothers happens to be a supplier of Tesco, the supermarket (which seems to have become everyone’s favourite punch-bag lately) has inevitably been sucked into the row. Unite has predictably argued that Tesco should take responsibility for all its suppliers’ working practices – though quite why Sir Terry Leahy should have to supervise every single toilet break along the entire length of his supply chain is a mystery to us. A Tesco spokesperson not surprisingly told the BBC that it had no plans to intervene at this stage.
While it seems ridiculous to effectively fine people for using the toilet, we have a bit of sympathy for the much-maligned Brown Brothers. After all, it’s clearly tried to come up with a deal that would benefit both sides – the production line runs smoothly, and staff get a bit of extra cash in exchange for regulating their movements (so to speak). Is the workforce really willing to wash its hands of a deal like that?