Boasting equity at work while laying off hundreds? Pull the other one

By Jim Bright

The new year has already set a cracking pace when it comes to industrial relations. It is difficult to know where to start, but perhaps a good place might be the UK Post Office.

Keen readers of international affairs may have heard that the venerable institution is alleged to have instigated the biggest miscarriage in English judicial history. The long-running scandal really only became front page news after a television drama (yet to be shown here) about the matter was broadcast in early January.

The venerable UK Post Office is alleged to have instigated the biggest miscarriage in English judicial history.
The venerable UK Post Office is alleged to have instigated the biggest miscarriage in English judicial history.Credit: Bloomberg

Over 900 staff were prosecuted between 1999 and 2014 for financial crimes. It turns out the Horizon financial software they were using was creating financial shortfall errors.

Worse, the Post Office was apparently aware the software could cause errors from 2012 or even earlier, but continued to insist that sub-postmasters should personally make up any shortfalls. There have been four reported suicides of sub-postmasters as well as significant mental health and relationship breakdowns as a result.

The corporate website for the Post Office proudly boasts that “we’re here for those that rely on us” – except their employees it seems. The organisation has signed up to every imaginable charter including climate action, waste reduction, business integrity (the gall of it!), equity diversity and inclusion, LGBTQ+, Race at Work Charter, Pregnancy loss pledge, The Menopause Pledge, and on it goes. All fine words. Doesn’t match or make up for the reality of how people were actually treated.

Nearer to home, on January 16 it was reported the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the mob that run A-league football, are about to or have already dispensed with almost half of their 80-strong workforce.

Unlike the Post Office, the APL appear to limit themselves on their website in the feelgood HR “space” to a rather vague statement that they have implemented “a number” of strategies and initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion “in our game”. This clearly does not extend to their 7-man, 1-woman board.

The consultancy world is no better. Late last year Ernst and Young cut 230 jobs in Australia. Their website proclaims “we empower our people” to “pursue careers as unique as they are”.


PwC managed to advise government on how to crack down on tax avoidance while advising the same companies the government were targeting in how to avoid tax. They laid off 344 staff at the end of the year.

On their website they proclaim “we empower our people through upskilling, flexible working and pursuing their passions.” Presumably 344 people’s passions lay beyond the Yellow Brick Road – a film reference not the company!

While, unlike Elon Musk who has a bee in his bonnet about equity and diversity, my point is not that these are unworthy goals, rather I question why anyone would take seriously the sententious content on organisations’ websites.

Presumably, part of the reason this material exists online is to make them appear attractive places to work. Which is all very well, until business imperatives and government inquiries tell a different story.

Dr Jim Bright FAPS owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy, and is director of evidence & impact at BECOME Education an Ed Tech start-up Email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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