‘If Bosses Really Want To Show They Value Workers, They Should Pay For Our Commute’

We're already spending hours each day travelling in our own time so we can do our jobs. Also paying to commute feels like a double tax, says Anna Silverman.

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by Anna Silverman |

I have builders in at the moment. Each day, a team of four guys arrive in three vans and I have to pay for them to park on my London street. It’s costing £66 a week to cover three vans. They’re going to be here for at least three months. You do the maths. Actually don’t. I don’t want to know how much it’s going to end up costing me.

Obviously I moaned when first hit with the bill – not a nice surprise to have to factor in on top of the building work I can barely afford. But why should workmen lose £66 a week to park outside the job they’ve been asked to do?

I really wish I didn’t have to pay it – but it’s not fair for anyone else to. In the same vein, employers shouldn’t expect employees to lose huge chunks of our salaries so we can get to the office and do our work.

This might all seem like a pointless argument right now with so many of us still working from our sofas. But pressure to go back is ramping up. This week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak threateningly warned the country that, to get on, we needed to go back to the office.

Also this week, a Bloomberg article titled Who’s Really Supposed to Pay for Your Commute? sparked a debate online. It pointed out that, those choosing to continue WFH are most likely to be those who have to commute. Avoiding the journey was the most commonly cited reason in support of WFH in a survey by YouGov. And out of office workers who prefer to WFH, 62% said their commute was too long.

It adds up, literally – of course us commuters aren’t as keen to rush back. Depending on where you live, we spend hours each day travelling in our own time so that we can do our jobs. Also paying for our commute feels like a double tax. It seems only fair for employers to cover the cost of us getting to our place of work, if that’s where they want us to be.

Many of us already feel we give an unhealthy amount of our lives to our jobs. Should we really have to give a sizable chunk of our salaries, too?

In 2019, the average one-way commute in London and the southeast of England was 45 minutes, with 18% of commuters saying their trip was between one and two hours, according to public transport app Moovit. Employees need to offer some big incentives to get us back when we’ve proved we work perfectly well at home.

Many of us already feel we give an unhealthy amount of our lives to our jobs. Should we really have to give a sizable chunk of our salaries, too? Boundaries between the personal and professional have blurred during the pandemic; at home we’re often starting earlier than we’re paid to and staying logged on far later than is healthy. If we’re going back to the office, at least we get that ‘turn off’ switch back when we walk out of the building again, but why should it come at the cost of losing hours to travel and hundreds to train fare?

Where offices are based also needs to be considered. Depending on your job, it’s almost impossible to live anywhere nearby, say, an office in London's zone one (or two for that matter). We’ve been priced out of city centres, banished to the suburbs, unless we want to spend £2k a month to live in a box where the kitchen is in the bathroom. If it’s financially impossible to move any closer, but employers who can afford city centre rents don’t try and help their workforces manage this, then we’re in imbalanced stalemate.

If employers do cover the commute, we need to be careful when it comes to how the expense is paid. If new jobs are advertised with your commute ‘factored into your salary’, careful it's not absorbed, so you think your employer is paying your train fare, when really they’ve offered you a salary £5k less than the previous person in your role, whose commute they didn’t pay for.

As with my builders, it’s better to pay for the cost upfront – separate to the cost of the final work - so everything is kept completely transparent. Employers should refund our travel cards at the end of each month.

It should be as normal as your company paying for you to fly to that conference in Paris they've said they need you at. Imagine if you were expected to pay for foreign business travel out of your own pocket. Normalise commutes being treated the same!

Naturally, the internet is divided. One Twitter use wrote: ‘Of course they should, I don't want to commute. Commuting is part of the job and it's unreasonable to expect that I should spend 1 second of my time unpaid for them.’

While others said: ‘Absolutely not. Not enough personal responsibility nowadays. Makes me sick’ and ‘Hell no! You choose where you live and where you work. We all have to determine for ourselves what we can deal with. People need to grow up. Government and employers do not exist to take care of you.’

Employers will have to think about competition too. If we’re refused help with our expensive commutes, chances are other companies will offer remote working and flexibility, so what’s stopping us moving jobs? (By moving I mean staying firmly at our dinner room table but working for somebody else, of course).

Before you feel too sorry for the poor companies, if they want us back in the office the joke’s on them really, as many of us have been working longer hours than ever at home since the pandemic began. So ironically, making us go back to the office might bring back the sort of 'work to rule' that bosses have traditionally resisted when trade unions have used it as a form of strike action.

The past 18 months have seen the biggest shake up of the working world in all our careers: with workers and employers trying to be more understanding. Let’s keep the momentum going when it comes to doing what’s fair. In a year when pay rises have been practically non-existent, how about showing you value that worker who’s giving everything for their job. Cover the commute.

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