In modern Britain, conventional blue collar jobs have reduced due to automation and computerization of business processes. The simultaneous shift toward a knowledge-based economy has made the workforce a predominantly white-collar group. The private sector tends to breach ‘duty of care’ requirements more than public sector organizations. But today, workers from all sectors of employment continue to face stress in the workplace, albeit in their own ways. A most disappointing case of failure in ‘duty of care’ within the public sector is with respect to British soldiers participating in the War on Terror. Numerous military personnel of various ranks have perished in the war and thousands more are suffering severe mental stress. The protracted and chaotic military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has been a point of debate the last few years, especially with increased costs for the exchequer and no victory in sight. This situation instigated Tory leader Cameron White to criticize former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government thus: “They failed to plan, they failed to act, they failed to prepare and they’ve failed in their duty of care,” (Cecil, 2010, p.8). In addition to dealing with hostility from enemy combatants, British troops are prone to getting bullied by those higher up the chain of command. According to the “Commons Defence Committee’s investigation into the functioning of Armed Forces, there is ‘insufficient awareness’ of duty of care policy throughout the entire chain of command. For far too long, duty of care has not received the attention it deserves. The Army, in particular, now needs to grasp the nettle of their duty of care.” (Cordon & Gammell, 2005, p.16 )
The laws applicable in United Kingdom are generally noted to be comprehensive; and the region is known to be very safe in terms of worker safety and worker care. Yet, there have always been systemic failures to prevent worker stress. Some leeway can be given to account for the fact that corporate laws have not been redesigned to fit the knowledge-based economy of the UK. Many ‘duty of care’ laws existing today were first drafted during the industrial age, when manufacturing of goods was the mainstay of the economy. But as the Information Technology revolution happened toward the end of the last century, and as sedentary, desk-based jobs became the norm, unexpected lifestyle changes were imposed on the workforce. Business leaders have not apparently foreseen the health consequences of such lifestyles; or even if they had, did not take the issue seriously. (Murphy & Cooper, 2000)
What public awareness exists today about breaches in ‘duty of care’ agreements, have come out as the result of litigations from affected employees. Law suits arising out of management’s callous attitude toward employee care are more numerous in the private sector compared to the public sector (the case of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is an exception to this rule). This is because of the steep competition in a free-market capitalist system. Under this system, the profit motive often overrules people’s interests (including that of employees). One could say that the Corporate Social Responsibility movement witnessed in the last decade is a reaction to the distorted priorities within the capitalist economy. As employees are part of the society too, the concept of duty of care can be seen as the precursor to CSR movement. Hence, two foremost imperatives at the moment are amendments to existing laws to reflect the new knowledge economy and renewed vigour on part of employers in adhering to duty of care laws. (Wan, 2007)
Nicholas Cecil, Brown Has Failed in Duty of Care to Our Soldiers, Claims Cameron. (2010, March 10). The Evening Standard (London, England), p. 8.
GAVIN CORDON and CAROLINE GAMMELL, Clamp Down on Bullying; Armed Forces Failing in Duty of Care. (2005, March 15). Daily Post (Liverpool, England), p. 16.
Brian Daniel, Death Blamed on a Lack of Basic Safety; Report Slams Failures in ‘Duty of Care’. (2010, January 21). The Journal (Newcastle, England), p. 20.
Fenton, J. W., Kelley, D. E., Ruud, W. N., & Bulloch, J. A. (1997). Employer Legal Liability for Employee Workplace Violence. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 62(4), 44+.
Hillsborough Stress Ruling Emphasises Employers’ ‘duty of Care’. (1997, February). Management Services, 41, 7.
Murphy, L. R., & Cooper, C. L. (2000). Healthy and Productive Work: An International Perspective. London: Taylor & Francis.
Vincent, A. (2009, Summer). Death in the Work Place. Management Services, 53, 45+.
Wan, K. W. (2007). Csi: Death on Site. Perspectives in Public Health, 127(6), 254+.
Summary of the law on STRESS AT WORK, retrieved from <http://www.thompsons.law.co.uk/ltext/l0780001.htm> on 24th November, 2010