Show Me Your Money
Last night’s Channel 4 documentary Show Me Your Money brought to the fore one of the most taboo issues in the workplace – money. The employees of Pimlico Plumbers were asked to reveal their salaries in an experiment to see if the higher paid workers would sacrifice some of their pay to subsidise the lower earners. What followed was a lot of awkwardness and resentment but, ultimately, the experiment worked.
The moment the garage workers revealed their salaries, mechanic Mark realised he was getting £9k less than his co-workers. It hit him hard. He realised his colleagues were able to afford things that he had been deprived of for so many years, like holidays. It was a similar story at the call centre. Five of the workers who had been there for years realised the newest recruit was earning £3k more than them. Then there was Tina, the kitchen hand. She was on a measly wage of £14k, leaving her with £5 a week after paying all her bills.
With the big revelation done and tensions rising, the company now had to work out how they would readjust the pay scheme so that everyone was fairly paid. Predictably, it was every man for himself. Whilst most workers agreed that salary discrepancies were unfair and sympathised with people like Tina, they weren’t prepared to sacrifice THEIR money to put things right.
In the end, the mechanics came up with a plan to cut costs by sourcing cheaper parts. Using the savings, they suggested increasing the wages of workers like Mark. Managing Director Charlie Mullins, who admits to earning £1million a year, was amazed at their resourcefulness. He agreed to match their savings so that the team could ensure every mechanic was on the same pay. Mark can now afford a holiday. Several senior managers agreed to knock off a couple of grand from their salaries and, matched with Charlie’s contribution, the call centre workers’ salaries were also evened out. Senior manager Karl insisted his annual income of £56k was fair and he wasn’t sacrificing anything. He even requested a mammoth £19k pay rise! But after spending some time with canteen worker Tina, he realised how hard life was for lower earners. He eventually agreed that sacrificing a mere £1k a year was justifiable. With Charlie matching his contribution, Tina was now on a much more market-friendly £16k. She was delighted.
The programme made me feel like this experiment should probably be implemented in many more workplaces. It would open up a can of worms, but as Charlie Mullins said himself, sometimes you need to open a can or two to see what’s inside. Personally, I feel a manager on £40k shouldn’t have to sacrifice his earnings when he has a mortgage to pay and family to feed. The plumbers and drainage workers work long hours, under tough conditions, so their pay reflects this. So fair enough. What isn’t fair enough, however, is when members of the same team are being paid different salaries. Or when a lower earner is paid below the recommended market rate. Experiments like this highlight these injustices and force something to be done about it. It even gives employees a platform to come up with cost-saving ideas themselves, like with the garage workers at Pimlico Plumbers. We can all learn something from those plumbers.