Union lists 50 ways to say you're sacked

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With apologies to Paul Simon and his song "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover", the GMB general union yesterday produced a list entitled "Fifty Ways to Sack Your Worker".

One of the more ironic phrases was employed by IBM which told its employees who were surplus to requirements that they should think of it as "a career opportunity". Another firm suggested that redundancy would enable its workers to get themselves out of a rut.

Stephen Roach, the American economics guru found guilty of coining the phrase "downsizing", was accused of spawning a whole growth industry producing euphemisms for sacking employees. Despite the belated realisation by Mr Roach that downsizing was not a business panacea, the union said that companies were still dismissing workers and using half-baked expressions to describe the process.

Among the words encountered by the union's officials to describe job losses were the relatively familiar "rationalisation", "de-layering" and "restructuring". But they also found the supposedly subtle "democratic streamlining" and "organisational realignment" and a more neutral description with a distinct whiff of the accountant about it: "Equalisation of the payroll to manpower requirement". Another company gave it a rather cumbersome title: "Production schedule rearrangement initiative". Union officials also encountered the grand but often-used: "Shaping up for Tomorrow".

There was the semi-apologetic "unfortunate depreciation of our greatest asset" and the more accusatory "You've made yourself redundant" and "You've priced yourself out of the market". One expression made up in honesty what it lacked in civility:"FIFO - Fit in or F*** off".

Published to coincide with the union's annual congress, a report found that only one in sixteen of new GMB members agreed that their job was secure. Eight out of 10 joined because of problems at work.

The GMB general secretary, John Edmonds, predicted that unions would see their memberships increase. "Unions are seen as the only check against unscrupulous employers," he said.

The GMB was not the only organisation yesterday to vent its spleen over "downsizing". The Institute of Personnel and Development, whose members often preside over the whole redundancy process and habitually add to the euphemisms used to describe it, yesterday railed against job insecurity. A survey by the institute showed that only a quarter of British workers unreservedly trusted their organisations to keep promises.

Geoff Armstrong, the IPD's director-general, said that employees felt a sense of betrayal at the "ripping up of the psychological contract which governed relations between managers and employees". The implicit contract was based on the expectation that organisations would reward loyal staff with a secure job.

"World-class performance won't come from a climate of fear and instability. All the rhetoric about stakeholding is just hot air unless organisations are seen by their employees to be committed to long-term strategies for maximising employment opportunities" - or employing people as we used to call it.