Oct 5th
2015

Is the EU driving down UK business?

Written by  Oliver Johnson - Director
Is the EU driving down UK business?

What do straight bananas, the humble pint and driving as an aspect of your work have in common? Not a lot. The first 2 are fallacies started by the UK tabloid press to evoke a response on slow news days. However the changes in the European Working Time Directive that have been announced last month have some serious implications for the continue ability of small businesses to compete with their larger rivals. So, what can be done?

Whether it be the shape of a banana, the size of a pint or what aspects of your job are actually your job or your personal life many business owners are in agreement on one thing, if the European Parliament announces adjustments to the working time directive we all reach out for our calculators and start to see how much money our business will lose. Sure we work hard to make money to feed our children, to put them through school, to treat our families to a nice holiday now and then and, just simply, for a pint down the pub. However most business owners work hard for our customers. We want to make our customers' lives better and one of the best ways of ensuring this happens is by making sure we balance our profit margins with high employee satisfaction. It is our hygiene servicing employees that our customers see each day and we have to work hard to ensure their working day is productive, satisfying and that their environment leaves them in the right frame of mind to provide our customers with the highest level of service therefore ensuring our business is reflected well in their minds.

This is a job for constant nurturing. There are the nuances of every individual that we have to ensure our working contracts reflect. There are the little bonuses that make their job worthwhile. The transport needs to be high quality, well serviced and easy for them to maintain at our expense. The role needs to attract the right wage and, for hygiene service jobs involving driving, we need to plan their routes in a way that allows them to achieve the highest number of hygiene service calls in the shortest journey times whilst providing them with scheduled replenishment stops at our head office. It is this balance that we have to work constantly, ensuring our customers get their service appointments within our agreed service levels whilst keeping the mileage, wear and human resources cost as low, per appointment, as possible. It is this act that allows us to provide high hygiene service levels whilst maintaining competitive pricing so that your business, in turn, can do the same for their customers.

As we all know this balancing act is a constant process that requires review, reflection, investigation and planning. So when the Court of Justice for the European Union makes a decision, based on a rather niched example involving a company abolishing their regional offices, we are all left reeling as it slams headlong into our delicate pricing structures that have been carefully assembled after years of gentle jostling between all of our customers and suppliers. We have to act and we have to be grateful for the UKs opt-out clause for the European Working Time Directive.

This might seem to be counter to our employees’ well-being but we really don’t believe it is. Without having the European Working Time Directive opt-out built into most private sector contracts we would have to insist that all our service drivers come to our offices each day. This would increase their working day length by some considerable margin. Another option is that we would have to provide an official working address, which they would never visit, in their specific region to allow them to start their day as close to their contractual hours as possible. Naturally the cost of this would have to be shouldered by our employees and our customers. As a small business fighting hard for the bottom end that allows us to offer competitive pricing this is something that neither us nor our customers need to see. Sure, a larger business would find it much easier to absorb this ruling’s cost implication but for a small business operating on narrow margins this could mean downsizing or ceasing trading altogether. We understand that there are some employers who exploit the opt-out however there are also other employers waiting to recruit decent driving staff who are happy to work reasonable territories that suit their life-style.

For a hygiene services business our driving workforce is the heartbeat of our operation. Every day they are the faces that are seen in our customer’s premises ensuring high standards of hygiene through the removal of waste as part of our duty of care responsibility for your business. These people need to be understood and supported with every case being individually heard. We will do what we can to make sure this ruling does not affect our bottom-line so that our customers can also continue to offer competitive pricing for their customers and so on. We march on and hope that we have the time, care of the opt-out, to reflect the positive aspects of this law over time without having to take drastic action with a wide range of unpleasant knock-on effects.

Of course the banana and the pint thing were all just sensationalist rumours from the tabloids. This, unfortunately, is not and could have a lasting effect on many businesses. The big question here is “How long can the UK hold onto our ‘opt-out’ from the European Working Time Directive?”.

More information - Court of Justice of the European Union - PRESS RELEASE No 99/15

Oliver Johnson - Director

Oliver Johnson has been in the washroom industry for over 12 years now, with experience in both sales and service. Oliver sculpted his leadership skills in the Royal Engineers and took with him the discipline and application that the army teaches you to move onto a successful career in the business world. After brief dalliances with both the construction and automotive industries Oliver moved into the Washroom industry and became the top sales person at Alphasan. After Alphasan were sold and began being diluted into a faceless corporation. Oliver believed strongly that the customers deserved a more personal service and started Zenith Washroom Solutions (formerly ABC hygiene) with the emphasis on Customer Service and quality provision of product. In his spare time Oliver is a committed family man, who enjoys spending time with his wife and children, and recently achieved a Black Belt from the Combat Academy UK.

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