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Are you free for lunch?

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White


How many of you have heard of Luncheon Vouchers?    The Luncheon Voucher or LV, originated in the UK  in  1946, only one year after the end of the Second World War, when food rationing was still in force and  the government was concerned that its workforce should be able to afford a nutritious mid-day meal. 
 

Taking into account that only large companies were able to operate a canteen offering subsidised food, an extra-statutory tax concession was subsequently introduced, under which employer-issued luncheon vouchers were free of  income tax and   national insurance contributions up to the value of 3 shillings (P4) a day.   


Initially, a company that wanted to take advantage of the benefit had to have vouchers printed and make arrangements with one or more local restaurants to accept them and take responsibility for collecting them up and reimbursing the restaurants;  but in  1954, a businessman, John Hack, realising that a single standardised voucher acceptable across the UK would be more logical and efficient,  subsequently started the Luncheon Vouchers Company to implement a nationwide Luncheon Voucher scheme.  Although the tax relief was eventually abolished as recently as 2013, the luncheon voucher scheme is still in operation today and LVs are also accepted in many supermarkets for food purchases.


For many years, the promise of luncheon vouchers was an attractive incentive for prospective employees in UK companies.  It was, if you will, a ‘perk’ of the job.  The vouchers could be used daily for their primary purpose of paying for a weekday lunch, or saved up and splurged on a special lunch or dinner.  Some companies have even been known to issue annual bonuses in the form of a clutch of vouchers for just such a special night out.  The Luncheon Voucher, to sum up, was a huge success, popular with both employers and employees and even today still has added value to a lower or middle-income job.


But the world turns and for a new generation of workers has emerged with grander ideas of employee benefits.   After one study showed that more than a third of people say perks are the most important consideration before accepting a job, researchers from the job site Glassdoor, identified 20 of the best added extras for employees of UK companies, some of which range from the super-generous to the frankly bizarre – you decide.

Top of the list is Phoenix Partnership, a Leeds-based IT company that works with the NHS, collating physical and mental health and social care records, offers free sailing holidays for its employees.  Additionally, the top floor of their upmarket office is a chill out space with comfortable sofas, pool tables , Sky TV, and lunchtime yoga classes and -a-side football.  Onsite massages are also on offer to help their busy staff unwind, plus on Fridays, there's free breakfast and a generous bar tab in the pub in the evening.  On their birthdays staff receive a £200 (P2500) voucher to go out for dinner.

At tech firm Cloudreach all employees get to go away on an all-expenses-paid holiday somewhere in Europe or North America once a year for four days to have fun and meet their overseas colleagues. Hotjar provides employees with €4,000 (P50,000) to build their own office space at home. Money.co.uk moved all their staff to a renovated castle with a built in Star Wars themed cinema room. TransferWise has a built-in office sauna for all employees to use. WorldFirst has an arcade machine with classic games for employees to play.


VisitBritain employees receive free West End theatre tickets and the organisation facilitates regular trips to some of the best new attractions or events across Britain. UKFast gives one extra week paid leave when employees get married and £10,000 (P150,000) bonus for ten years' service to the business. Winton Capital Management employs a 'Food Evangelist' to make sure everyone has advice on the best food to suit their needs. Expedia UK supplies employees with a 'Wellness Allowance' of anything between £400-£1200 (P6000-P18,000) to spend on fitness related items of their choice such as running shoes, gym memberships, sports clubs etc.


Qubit offers weekly yoga, meditation and pilates classes. JustEat gives employees free food and drink every Friday with a resident DJ spinning the decks so that they can dance the evening away at the office. Buzzfeed UK gets some of the best British musical talent to the office every Thursday to perform for employees. Mind Gym supplies employees with cocktails every Friday. Smarkets believe in a 'self management structure', meaning you come in when you want and decide what you work on. They also employ a team of full-time chefs to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner daily for staff at their London HQ.


Yell offers an uncapped commission structure. Earn as much money as you can. Harrods gives staff 33 percent discount on all items and 50 percent reduction for business attire. ZPG offer employees interest free loans for home improvements or even weddings.
Facebook fully supports family planning, with assistance for adoption or surrogacy and 'baby cash' to help with newborn expenses

But my personal list-topper in terms of bizarre, over-the-top and utterly unique goes to BrewDog, a Scottish-based craft beer company which, presumably from a play on its name, offers employees 'paid puppy leave', a week of paid holiday to help their new family pet dog settle in. They knock our 13th cheques into the proverbial cocked hat, don’t they?  As for the poor LV, no wonder they say ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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