Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Homeworking Not Eco-Friendly?

A report on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph (cough, spit!) caught my eye at the newsagents. It seems a study by environmental consultants WSP Environmental has suggested that the drive to more homeworking backed by a number of large employers and government departments is likely to increase environmental damage rather than decrease it. Whilst there are reasons for scepticism about the source of this report (of which more later) it does raise issues that I have had when greens and others promote homeworking and teleworking as ethical and environmental options. The report suggests that working from home may create almost a third more emissions per year than working in a typical office base.

The argument has been that homeworking and teleworking decrease pressure on the transport network and reduce transport emissions. About 12 percent of the UK workforce now work from home, says the Telegraph. WSP found that while cutting out a commute reduces emissions, the extra heat and power used at home, (especially during the winter)can outweigh the benefits of not commuting. In an office or workplace heat and power are shared, at home it is rare for a person to just heat the room they are working in. In summer there is an environmental benefit - as most UK homes do not have air conditioning!

It has been argued that homeworking allows a better balance between personal and working lives. This may well be true in some cases, though in others it may be that working life invades the home even more than before.

The WSP report might be treated sceptically as Turkeys do not vote for Christmas, and a quick scan of the Internet reveals that according to the page about them on the EU Commission's Managenergy website WSP -

" is one of the largest consultants providing management and design expertise in the property sector throughout the world. Its expertise range from the world's tallest buildings and corporate headquarters to hospitals, urban regeneration and leisure. WSP provides expert advice on a wide range of transport related engineering projects, including roads, rail, bridges, tunnels and utility services. Its extensive experience including planning, analysing, designing and managing projects for a wide of range of service providers."

However, as an ecosocialist, (whilst recognising that homeworking can be liberating and convenient for some workers, and that others are given no choice) I have other reasons for being sceptical about the advocacy of homeworking as a great step forward. Dispersing a workforce to isolated locations like homes must seem to some employers like a great way of isolating them from each other and preventing organisation and mutual aid and defence. It can also be anti-social and lonely on a personal level. This is before we get into areas like health and safety and employers shirking responsibilities to cater for childcare and other personal needs of workers.

Where workers themselves see homeworking as beneficial they should be supported, but employers forcing people to work from home should be opposed and the rights of homeworkers need to be fought for and protected. Fortunately there is growing awareness of these issues and some moves nationally and internationally by homeworkers to organise. Here is an interesting page on clothing industry homeworking supported by a range of UK NGOs and unions. Here is the site of Homeworkers worldwide UK based NGO and here is the UK National Group on Homeworking.

Aside from the NGO activity though, the most important thing is that homeworkers themselves get connected and active as workers in solidarity. In terms of unionising in difficult circumstances the great ongoing IWW campaign to unionise Starbucks is an example to us all!

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