One of the most significant rounds of pay negotiations in UK industry was taking place this week, as Unite union representatives sat down with Jaguar Land Rover management to discuss wage rises for around 23,000 workers.
The story has been documented endlessly, both in West Midlands media circles, and nationally.
JLR dragged itself back from the brink in the early months of 2009 to power ahead under its new Tata paymasters into a brave new world of huge investment in new models, the creation of thousands of new jobs, export drives, a new engine plant near Wolverhampton, a string of industry awards and much else besides.
In 2013, JLR sold 425,006 vehicles, a rise of 19 per cent on the previous year. For the financial year to March 2014, the company reported full-year pre-tax profits of £2.5 billion and revenues of £19.4 billion.
As Midland peer Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya , an adviser to JLR, told the Post last year: “They want to produce one million cars by the end of the decade. It’s now a small company compared to the Germans, BMW, Audi, etc.
“It is a realistic aim that they could more than double by the end of the decade. In fact, they could do it earlier.”
It’s a heady prospect, and if anybody can pull it off, Jaguar Land Rover can, or so it would seem.
So the fine print of the pay deal on offer for those thousands of workers who have played significant roles in the biggest success story in UK industry of the past five years should be well worth studying.
The last wage round saw 21,000 workers at JLR vote by an overwhelming 78.5 per cent in favour of a two-year deal which provided a 4.5 per cent rise, plus £500, from November 1, 2012, and three per cent or that of the Retail Price Index from November 2013.
A similar deal, probably linked to inflation, may well be on offer this time round. We shall see.
But compare and contrast the changing fortunes of JLR over the past few years with last week’s message from leading economist Tim Morgan in the aftermath of a new report entitled There Is A Cost Of Living Crisis from the Centre for Policy Studies.
The report showed that between 2010 and 2013, average wages increased by 4.8 per cent, significantly less than the Consumer Price Index 9.4 per cent rise.
Mr Morgan points out that, from 2007 to 2010, average wages grew by 5.8 per cent, almost half the CPI figure of ten per cent.
“It would be disingenuous to blame this ‘cost of living crisis’ on the coalition, since the decline in real living standards began earlier,” says Mr Morgan.
Tim Knox, director of the centre for Policy Studies, says: “The current deterioration in living standards is a clear consequence of Labour’s mismanagement of the economy.
“But if Ronald Reagan’s famous question, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ were to be asked today, the answer for most people in Britain would be ‘No.’
“Coupled with the fragility of the economic recovery, the Coalition must therefore resist the temptation to be complacent. Much more needs to be done.”
Another recent survey from the Manchester-based Think Money Group paints a more alarming picture of the state of the economy.
The finance company says one in 11 people, or 4.5 million British adults, have less than £10 a month left over once they have paid their essential bills. Across the UK, the average monthly disposable income was £224.50, hardly a recipe for Michelin-starred meals or flash foreign holidays.
The survey quotes Ian Williams, director of communications at Think Money: “It’s stressful not knowing if you will have enough money to pay the bills and afford added extras each month.”
He certainly has a point.
Consider the words of Gerard Coyne, regional secretary of Unite union in a recent newspaper column: “Public sector workers have now grown weary of the rhetoric that ‘we are all in this together’ and that any attempt to improve their living standards is sheer greed.
“The reality is that, over the past five years, pay freezes and below-inflation increases have dramatically eroded the take-home pay of public servants, while at the same time they have had more demands placed upon them.
“With over 400,000 earning less than £15,000 a year, then it is evident that this is neither a small problem nor a fair reward for those working hard to deliver high-quality public services.”
Meanwhile, a report on Low Pay by former KPMG deputy chairman Alan Buckle echoed the Coyne theme a few months back.
Mr Buckle said: “One in five workers – or 5.2 million people – earn less than a Living Wage, up from 4.8 million in 2012 and 3.4 million in 2009.
“Things have got worse. Employees have experienced a prolonged wage squeeze in recent years and the real value of the minimum wage has fallen by five per cent since 2010.”
The reality, for millions of people in the real world away from the Westminster and media bubbles, is that there is no recovery of any significance.
Survival and the daily struggle to stay afloat after years of wages falling behind inflation is the name of the game in many homes.
Even relatively well-paid workers at Jaguar Land Rover – a company which arguably has done more than any other to help bolster industrial growth in the UK – will reflect on that as they consider their forthcoming wage rise this autumn.