Why won’t people work for nothing?

Carl Cooper, 26, owns his own business – Car Smart UK in Canterbury, and had what must have seemed at the time to be a very bright idea.

It’s a real problem for a small business. You got a good idea, there’s a demand for it, you put in a lot of hours building up your business, but there are only so many hours in the day, you cannot be two places at once, you can’t talk on the phone to two different car dealerships simultaneously, you need more people. But the moment you bring new people in, the whole situation changes.

One big problem which does not occur to many people in Carl Cooper’s situation: you can be very good at running your own business but an absolutely terrible manager. But the cashflow problem is something you just can’t ignore.

Even if you just pay your new employee minimum wage, they’ve got to bring the company – that is, you! – a minimum of £4000 each quarter (allowing for 25% over the cost of their wages) just to break even. The chances are that even if you advertise for someone who can “hit the ground running”, an employee’s first few weeks will not be their most productive – they’re learning the job, learning what you expect of them. But you still need to pay them. Then if they’re telesales workers, you’ve got to rent more office space, buy the desks, get phones and phone lines and computers and all – huge expense, and their wages are really just the last straw, because you’ve got to pay them that whether they’re any good or not….

Imagine a little light-bulb coming on over Carl Cooper’s head. Here he’s been reading all of these news stories about big businesses that take people off the dole, and don’t pay them, but get a full work week out of them anyway. Why shouldn’t he do that? Just for a couple of weeks. Get seven people off the dole, and once they’ve accepted the job, tell them that for the first couple of weeks they’ll get £100 a week – twice their JSA, less than half what Smart Cars UK should legally pay them. But after that, if they’re any good at telesales, they can start earning commission! And if they’re not, well, just fire them and get some more people off the dole!

To Carl Cooper, right up to the Wednesday his new workers were all due to start, this must have seemed like an absolutely splendid notion. Telesales workers, bringing in new revenue for the company, with practically no waste on paying them wages!

For each of the seven who had thought they were getting off the dole, only to discover that their new employer intended to pay them £20 a day (of which, apparently, £5 would be eaten up by transport costs) Wednesday morning must have been a thoroughly depressing day even if it hadn’t rained torrentially. Which it did.

Not one of them showed up.

Carl Cooper was left standing in the middle of a shiny empty telesales office with all his new computers and desks that he paid good money for, wondering why these people weren’t grateful and happy to work for him without getting proper pay.

Soon he figured it out.

“The benefit system rewards people for doing nothing. I was left disbelieving when none of the new recruits turned up. But really the problem is that there are not enough determined or ambitious people. The benefit system is too generous and breeds more laziness. All my new recruits, who were in their early twenties, could be earning good money with us. Instead they chose to stay at home because they did not want to venture out into the rain. These are people who would rather stay on the dole than work — they are without enthusiasm for it.”

Well, that’s it then. Couldn’t possibly be that they decided this kind of dodgy business wasn’t worth their time: better to try and find an employer who wouldn’t so casually screw them out of three-fifths of their wages?

As a canny commenter points out:

Yes I’m sure ‘I did 3 weeks at Fly by Night marketing before I jacked it in’ goes down a stormer at interviews and really looks the part on a CV.
After subdidising various shonky employers to employ you for tuppence hapenny, you’d be skint and they’d be laughing.

Carl Cooper then compounded his mistake. After all, at that point only 8 people knew about Carl’s idea of not paying employees. And none of the 7 people who’d turned him down knew for sure that none of the others had done so too. Admittedly he had already built grandiose schemes in his head – remember, he’s only 26! – about hugely expanding his business without ever properly paying his staff:

Carl predicts that successful applicants could hit £250 – and the minimum wage – in their second week but he accepts that many people will give up before then.

“We do experience a high volume in turnover of staff but that’s what the industry experiences,” he explained to me.

The “best” of the bunch will be offered full employment from week three, earning £6.08 per hour plus commission, which Carl expects will be increased to around £35 per sale.

Why would Car Smart want permanent staff when it can have a revolving door of self-employed people on probation on barely half the money?

Carl insisted firm genuinely wants employees and plans to hire between 50-100 for an ambitious expansion plan.

He defended the two-week trial period: “That’s there to provide them with petrol money, lunch money and the opportunity to trial the position.”

An hour after his first seven victims had refused to get bit, Carl Cooper complained to Twitter:

At lunchtime, he then re-advertised – evidently deciding that the only problem was thinking small, this time he advertised for twenty “sales executives”.

Later that day – unclear whether this was because of his complaints on Twitter directed at Chris Evans or if if he rang the local BBC – Carl Cooper ended up on the news on BBC South East, as part of a segment on youth unemployment and his relationship with the local Job Centre as an employer, and on a morning show on Thursday 26th April. Smelling blood, the Daily Mail contacted him and then The Sun, and at first this is all glorious and then you can see it going sour….

11:20 AM

12:02 PM

3:25 PM

4:01 PM

4:03 PM

4:05 PM

4:06 PM

4:14 PM

4:14 PM

4:19 PM

4:21 PM

And there’s a pause of about half an hour. At which point it seems to have occurred to Carl Cooper for the very first time that most people wouldn’t find it endearing or even amusing that he was so determined to screw his employees over, nor would they share his astonishment that these people just weren’t keen on being screwed over. That the interviewers who had been so nice to him, getting him to expound at length on his theories of employment, just possibly hadn’t had Carl Cooper’s interests at heart.

4:47 PM

4:47 PM

Nine minutes later, hoping for deus ex machina, he appeals to the God of Ruthless Entrepreneurs:

4:56 PM

On getting no answer from Alan Sugar, he then appeals to the God of the Dragons’ Den:

5:02 PM

I’m guessing that he then locks up his empty office and goes home. Hoping that the fuss will just die down. Five hours later he tries to explain to these angry angry people (on Facebook – now deleted) about his great idea about just not paying people, so that they’ll understand….

9:59 PM

That doesn’t work. Carl Cooper’s next tweet this morning at 9:42 AM is a link to an item of car news, and he hasn’t tweeted or FB’d anything about it since.

He’s now busy deleting negative comments at the Car Smart Facebook page, but there is nothing he can do about @CarSmartUK‘s twitter feed, which is now populated entirely by critics and spambots. Not really good for a business boasting

We provide car dealers with a full advertising and marketing package. Using social media we will market not only your stock but your dealership.

I can feel sort of sorry for Carl Cooper. His grand scheme of massively expanding his workforce with people who don’t need paying, was the kind of fantasy idea that he probably saw himself explaining to Alan Sugar or to Theo Paphitis as he retired massively rich at the age of 29. Yes, it was grossly selfish and exploitative and foolish. But he’s a puppy, not a shark.

The sharks are the supermarkets who really can get away with not paying people. In all sorts of ways. Tesco and Asda can afford to ride out the workfare scandal: it may make them a little bit more unpopular, but they can survive the loss of a few million and they have the clout to instruct the DWP to stop responding to Freedom of Information requests. I somehow doubt Car Smart UK is going to ride out the Twitterstorm….

Update, 29th May 2012

Car Smart UK’s website www.carsmart.org.uk still exists. Their Facebook page is looking a bit neglected (people seem to have stopped leaving recommendations there after this blow-up, but ads are still being posted), but the Twitter feed @CarSmartUK has been deleted – though the website still links to it.


Filed under Annoying Phone Calls, Benefits, Supermarkets

4 responses to “Why won’t people work for nothing?

  1. I don’t feel sorry for him at all. He’s a greedy ignorant corporate bully – or at least a wannabe corporate bully. I wonder how many times he’s applied to be on the Apprentice. I’m willing to bet he’s applied at least once.

  2. you obviously have not seen my blogs then. im not a critic or a spambot i spin the truth not like mr cooper and his slave drivers like they have a huge norse longship and everyone is rowing in the same direction TO HELL.look at these http://blogs.kentonline.co.uk/post/Carl-Smart.aspx and http://blogs.kentonline.co.uk/post/Carl-Smart-2-pre-minimum-wage-MAXIMUM-RAGE.aspx btw he has changed the advert for the vacancies on the site i put in the blog use the same case number and you will see people have to fone the dwp to find out more. he should have shut his face up and not diss 2.7 million GENUINE potential workers

  3. We have made it into a dystopian future where normal moral standards no longer apply, and greed knows no bounds, and is encouraged and facilitated by a patrician government so far removed from the people that it doesn’t know, and doesn’t care about the misery and suffering it is causing.

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