Is Guardian as bad as Tesco on experience?


9:30 am - February 20th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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Writing in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, minister Chris Grayling slammed the ‘job snobs’ who opposed offering slave labour to Tesco.

Surely the people who refuse mandatory work-placements for no pay are enemies of freedom? – he nearly added.

He said 20,000 young people had “already moved off benefits” after finding full-time jobs after taking up work experience organised by jobcentres. I find this somewhat hard to believe given the DWP’s own figures show 24,000 people have gone through the scheme and the success rate isn’t that high.

And then there was this:

The critics are job snobs. The Guardian newspaper publishes stories attacking big retailers for offering short-term unpaid work experience placements for young people.

But that same Guardian newspaper advertises on its website – yes, you guessed it – short-term unpaid work experience placements for young people.

Grayling has a long history of being dishonest, so this attempt at comparison isn’t surprising. In 2010 he was slammed by the UK Statistics Authority and even Iain Duncan Smith for “misleading” people about crime statistics.

And don’t forget the time he misled on benefits cuts.

Anyway, comparison with the Guardian and BBC schemes is fatuous for several reasons.

1. The Guardian and BBC schemes are voluntary – these are not. People lose their JSA if they don’t sign on.

2. Both WE schemes are for only two weeks, in line with HMRC best practice. The Tesco job ad stated ‘permanent’ and most placements are longer than two weeks – giving the company plenty of free labour.

3. The Guardian is a relatively smaller company, working in an industry where it’s relatively hard to get experience. The same is not true of working in supermarkets.

The comparison is simply barmy.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


There is a problem with your article; I don’t believe that having looked into this you can be unaware that Tesco have said that the advertisement describing the job as permanent was made in error and they have apologised for their mistake. Leaving that information out is dishonest.

Re the actual comparison; the sort of person who would benefit from work experience at Tesco, (and despite any snobbish attitudes I’m certain that there are a reasonable number of people in that category), are staggeringly unlikely to be the sort of people who would be able to get a work experience placement at the Guardian. Should these poor, benighted non Guardian workers just be left to rot or do you have something better than the current scheme to suggest? If so why haven’t you?

Hmm. As loathe as I am to agree with Chris “Mayor of Baltimore” Grayling, I do think the media is on thin ice here.

It’s no secret that a lot of publications get idealistic 22 year olds to work for them for free to extended periods. Okay, it may be voluntary – but the result of that is we’ve got a media that’s increasingly upper-middle class because no one else can get a foot in the door.

That’s not to say it’s as abhorrent as the idea of using soaring unemployment to give a hugely profitable company free labour. But I think it’s still quite a long way from actually being good.

“Subsidising a workforce for the likes of Tesco isn’t going to create jobs, it’s going to COST jobs says” – thats from @Old_Holborn and he’s right. http://www.blottr.com/contributor/old-holborn/work-fair

“3. The Guardian is a relatively smaller company, working in an industry where it’s relatively hard to get experience.”

This is not dissimilar to Alan Rusbridger’s regular defence of the Guardian’s use of tax avoidance and offshore hedge funds that the progressive good the Guardian does is offset by its murky finances and shouldn’t be compared to “proper” tax avoiders like the big banks.

Falco @ 1

the sort of person who would benefit from work experience at Tesco,

The people who benefit from this scheme are Tory ministers, the misanthropic scum and Tesco shareholders, not some unemployed youth conscripted into a forced labour gang.

These people are not getting ‘work experience’ of any value; stacking shelves free of charge is not ‘work experience’ because no employer is going to value something that didn’t cost anything. The only ‘skill’ you are getting from that is ‘stacking shelves’ which the market is vastly oversubscribed for anyway. Any supermarket who puts up an advert for shelf stackers gets dozens of replies.

Supermarkets have been in existence for about fifty years in this Country. During that time, the retail industry have been recruiting and training people for all of that time, without government intervention.

Now after all that time, the supermarket industry has honed their skills to the point that they can make hundreds of millions of quid in profit a year from having shelves stacked. Now, in their ‘wisdom’ the Tory Party have decided that Tesco, ASDA, Waitrose, Sainsbury et al have actually been recruiting these people wrongly and they can help ‘fine tune’ by adding another layer to the process. Thank god for ‘small government’.

What have the supermarkets been doing wrong all those years that the government of the day have spotted?

It’s all a matter of nuance and degree, a voluntary work-placement of a few weeks and forced labour over a long period of time, are different beasts. Ask any libertarian.

@Jim

There’s far more to the Tesco work experience that just learning how to stack pints of milk.

The experience of punctuality, dealing with customers, getting on with staff & bosses, dressing appropriately etc.

I don’t agree with the workfare schemes but there’s far more to it than you seem to appreciate.

Honestly one doesn’t need to read more than the title of the article to know it is basically going to say “capitalust pigs bad, left-wing mouthpiece for all that is progreesive good” but now that I have I’ll make a couple of points.

The tesco workfare is also short term. I understand 3 weeks. I also highly doubt it provides them with free labour in the waymany are screaming so loudly about. There are costs associated with employing anyone, not least in terms of training, admin and health and safety.

I would also hazard a guess that these sefsame costs are what prevent the governemnt implementing a “social benefit” stlye workfare of street cleaning etc etc. The costs involved in organising, maintaining, training and health and safety are not negligable by any means. Which is why, at a sensible guess, it is effectively being outsourced to large companies who do have the means, at low cost to government itself, of organizing, training and placing large numbers of low skilled people.

I’d also hazard a guess that the civil service unions would be sreaming murder if a “social benefit” workfare scheme was brought in, as these workers would almost certainly supplant some low skilled civil service/council jobs.

Lastly, you fail to draw any distinction in terms of skills. I dount the guardian accept anyone who doesn’t have good academic skills, yet these people on the whole are not the problem when it comes to the long term unemployed, who are more likely to have poor skills and can lack even fairly basic qualifications in english and maths. Whilst fairly menial service jobs are certianly not glamourous, they are still jobs, and can provide people with few skills or formal qualifications a beginning in the workplace and a chance to improve their lot, given time and effort. Which is something guardian internships for thos already possesing above average skills and chances in life does not – I’d be very surprised if the people they take don’t already have excellent career prospects one way or another, and aren’t as dependent on being given a chance at work experience.

The link in the OP is actually an article about Grayling’s piece. The actual article is here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9091105/Critics-of-Government-work-experience-programme-are-jobs-snobs-says-minister.html

The Telegraph obviously feels its readers unable to cope with an uninterpreted politician. Almost as bad as making someone say “Surely the people who refuse mandatory work-placements for no pay are enemies of freedom? – he nearly added.”

Actually there’s no need to put words in Grayling’s mouth, the reality is damning enough. As commenter Mrs Trellis points out:

And in this edition of MYTHBUSTERS:

Grayling: “It’s an entirely voluntary scheme; no one is obliged to take part.”

DWP Work Programme Provider Guidance:
‘Work Experience for JSA Claimants:
14. Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity. This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated.’

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wp-pg-chapter-3.pdf

BUSTED !!!!

Interestingly the vast majority of comments are attacking Grayling (a number of his other statements are also deconstructed), even the more stereotypical Telegraph reader is obviously opposed to slave labour or at least unwilling to defend the taxpayer subsidising Tesco’s profits.

Shinsei @ 7

The experience of punctuality, dealing with customers, getting on with staff & bosses, dressing appropriately etc.

These are all givens, though. You would be expected to learn that in any real ‘job’. Actually, these people need jobs ‘not work experience’. Work experience is something that you learn from day one in a real job.

People like Tesco have been training people to stack shelves for decades (too lazy to look it up), so what has changed so that they now need a hundred quid from the Government to teach someone to do it?

Tesco are not doing this from the kindness of their heart, they are getting something from it (or at least think they are) or they wouldn’t be doing it. Three weeks is long enough to cover a Christmas rush or the summer holidays of waged employees. These jobs were normally taken by temps, students during down time, people between jobs, part timers, or people looking for overtime etc.

The Government have cut off these traditional avenues into work. People used to get ‘work experience’ in that fashion. They would gain ‘experience’ while ‘working’, that is simple enough concept in itself and a system that appears to work well for the last fifty years. How many people gained ‘work experience’, not to mention badly needed money, temping for one organisation or another? So, in your rush to punish the unemployed, you will be hurting thousands of other people and denying them ‘work experience’ and money to boot.

If you ever have professional contact with retailers and even major ones, you find that the person called ‘manager’ is hardly old enough to shave. It turns out that these guys start of at the bottom of the ladder, often stacking shelves as part of a Saturday job for example and ten years later they are working full time as a manager. Tyler, the system worked and it worked very well, too.

12. Chaise Guevara

The “do this or lose your JSA” threat means that unpaid internships (Guardian) are not at all comparable with workfare. Grayling is being disingenuous. Whether or not he’s actually lying depends on whether this statement is true: “The Guardian newspaper publishes stories attacking big retailers for offering short-term unpaid work experience placements for young people”. Does it, or did it attack them for taking part in the exploitative workfare scheme that sees people employed for less than £2 per hour?

Internships are bad in themselves, and the Guardian shouldn’t offer them, but it’s far from being the same thing.

13. Douglas Hayward

Leaching off free labour is still leaching off free labour – be it forced or not – although of course unforced is slightly better.

The Guardian should pay interns a living wage – full stop.

The company I work would not use free labor, and that’s 100% right.

@ 8 Tyler

There are costs associated with employing anyone, not least in terms of training, admin and health and safety.

That should include proper pay, benefits and Ers NIC.

Otherwise Tesco are getting labour on the ludicrously cheap and taxpayers are paying.

@ Jim

“The government have cut off these avenues for getting into work”

Yes they have – it’s called the minimum wage.

Which leads me on nicely to

@ BenM

The problem is that if tesco had to pay these people minimum wage plus everything else, it would probably not make financial sense for them. The value that these employess create might well be marginal, especially as they will tend to be the least skilled, and possibly most troublesome. Why hire someone who has never worked and is long term unemployed when you can hire someone who has worked, has some experience etc even if that experience amounts to little more than basic work ethic?

Given the small amount of people tesco are likely to employ through workfare against the vast amount they emply formally, let alone their huge staff turnover rate, I’d say tesco are using workfare in a way akin to the probationary period in their formal contracts, but with more leeway to hire people who might not have otherwise made the grade. It’s a trade off – yes, the people on workfare are easier to get rid of once their 3 weeks is up, but at the same time many of them might not have otherwise had the chance to even get a foot in the door otherwise.

The day tesco is staffed primarily by people on workfare I’ll cede the argument and agree that this was all about “slave” labour, but I’d also bet that what is much more likely is that tesco will never have more than a tiny proportion of workfare staff, not least because the costs associated with such high staff turnover would be too large, staff skills and customer service would suffer (and yes, even supermarket staff have specific skills) and the value of labour from such temporary arrangments would be too low.

14
The largest input into Tesco is unseen, that is the large number of its’ employees claiming tax-credits, this makes the workfare programme look like peanuts by comparison.
The miniumum wage was introduced in 1999 when employment levels were high, over the following 10 years unemployment levels came down and were relatively low, although we can’t make a direct comparison had the minimum wage not been introduced, the known result, after introduction, is favourable. Furthermore, it wasn’t those on minimum wage who brought down the economy. .

Tyler @ 14

Yes they have – it’s called the minimum wage.

The problem is that if tesco had to pay these people minimum wage plus everything else, it would probably not make financial sense for them.

That is rubbish. Tesco’s and every other retailer in the Country pay at least the minimum wage and in some cases a bit more to get their shelves stacked. There is not a single shelf in the Country that remains unstacked because of the minimum wage. In fact employment has steadly increased since the introduction of the minimum wage.

I’d say tesco are using workfare in a way akin to the probationary period in their formal contracts,

A system that worked for fifty years and made Tesco and the other retailers untold billions of pounds in profit.

Now, all of a sudden, we are told that Tesco have ‘lost’ the ability to train and asses people and now need a Government subsidy of a hundred quid + free labour to hire staff. Why? What has changed? And why are the State acting as a barrier to free market innovation for staff recruitment? Surely, if Tesco’s methodology in training and retaining staff is wrong, it is up to them to rectify it? Why are we taking on the burden of their recruitment problems, another business too big to fail perhaps?

but with more leeway to hire people who might not have otherwise made the grade.

But then that would be an advantage to Tesco to find a pool of untapped talent, that is not the role of government to bankroll their searches, is it? They are getting the benefit of this, why I am paying taxes to support a multi billion pound business recruit staff?

18. Chaise Guevara

@ 15 Taylor

“The day tesco is staffed primarily by people on workfare I’ll cede the argument and agree that this was all about “slave” labour”

So… it doesn’t count as injustice as long as it’s suffered by less that 50% of the workforce?

Why?

@ Jim

Once again you haven’t bothered to read what I wrote properly. Hardly a surprise.

@ chaise

I doubt workfare will even more than 1% in tesco’s total staff pool. As I said, I expect they would use it in a similar manner to their normal recruitment lines, but to access and give opportunity to people who otherwise wouldn’t get a look in.

Likewise, there are severe downsides to too rapid staff turnover. Training alone of new staff does take more time than you think – thanks to H+S etc. Short placements don’t offer huge value to tesco, I’d hazard an educated guess, and you won’t see more than a few.

Honestly though, if lefties on this site keep saying that tesco make billions of profit every year, are people seriously saying that having a few workfare people doing short contracts with them is going to materially affect tesco’s bottom line? Seriously?

Indeed now it looks like some companies will pull out of workfare thanks to the negative publicity from shouty left wing types who just screamed “slavery” or “nasty money-grabbing corporate” at the tops of their voices. Well intentioned I”m sure, but with little basis in reality. The result? No company wants bad publicity, so they pull out of workfare, which means unemployed people with little skills or experince now lose another chance to learn and get some.

Good job lefties – you’ve really suceeded in helping people up once again.

“1. The Guardian and BBC schemes are voluntary – these are not. People lose their JSA if they don’t sign on.”

What is wrong with that, exactly? You haven’t at any point specified why that is a bad thing. If someone is unemployed, what is there to lose by them doing work experience? All their expenses are paid, too – it’s not like doing voluntary work for charities etc. where you’d still have to cover your costs. If someone is actually determined to get work, these are fantastic opportunities. The only reason I can see to deride them is either snobbery (i.e. people are unemployed and looking for high end jobs and don’t want to consider low paid jobs), or laziness – neither of which are acceptable excuses.

“2. Both WE schemes are for only two weeks, in line with HMRC best practice. The Tesco job ad stated ‘permanent’ and most placements are longer than two weeks – giving the company plenty of free labour.”

Agreed insofar that the companies shouldn’t be getting a free ride. They should cover at least some of the costs of JSA – this could be a cost saving tool for the government, too.

“3. The Guardian is a relatively smaller company, working in an industry where it’s relatively hard to get experience. The same is not true of working in supermarkets.”

For long term unemployed it’s hard to get a look-in by anyone, including supermarkets. As a media graduate I struggled to get an interview at any supermarket, and I got turned down by ASDA because they had many more applicants with previous experience. This is the very definition of job snobbery.

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 19 Tyler

“I doubt workfare will even more than 1% in tesco’s total staff pool.”

That doesn’t address the point that injustice remains injustice even if it happens to a small group of people.

“As I said, I expect they would use it in a similar manner to their normal recruitment lines, but to access and give opportunity to people who otherwise wouldn’t get a look in.”

According to my morning paper the other day, which annoyingly I can’t link, Tesco said in August that, of the people it’s hired on this kind of basis, only 10% had gone on to get permanent jobs with the company. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not complete information, but it doesn’t bode well.

“Likewise, there are severe downsides to too rapid staff turnover. Training alone of new staff does take more time than you think – thanks to H+S etc. Short placements don’t offer huge value to tesco, I’d hazard an educated guess, and you won’t see more than a few.”

This may have changed in 10 years, but my training at Somerfield (other than on-the-job training) consisted of a video. And every six months or so we’d watch another video. Again, why have a few exploitative “jobs” when you could just not have any?

“Honestly though, if lefties on this site keep saying that tesco make billions of profit every year, are people seriously saying that having a few workfare people doing short contracts with them is going to materially affect tesco’s bottom line? Seriously?”

No, but big companies, especially value-focused ones like Tesco, don’t get to be big by failing to count the pennies. And if this evolves into standard business practice it could start to have a notable effect, to the extent where competitors would feel forced to participate or lose their competitiveness.

“Indeed now it looks like some companies will pull out of workfare thanks to the negative publicity from shouty left wing types who just screamed “slavery” or “nasty money-grabbing corporate” at the tops of their voices. Well intentioned I”m sure, but with little basis in reality. The result? No company wants bad publicity, so they pull out of workfare, which means unemployed people with little skills or experince now lose another chance to learn and get some.”

You have to *follow through* with the scenario. What happens after they pull out of workfare? Well, some (not all, but some) of the positions that would have been filled through workfare are replaced with actual jobs. And who ultimately benefits from a wider job market? The unemployed.

With this system, let’s say a shop “employs” two people on workfare. They get JSA for their troubles. Without it, the shop employs one person on normal rates. They get a proper salary, and the other person STILL gets JSA.

If you think this scheme is so good for the unemployed, why does it need a stick as well as a carrot?

22. Jon Bon Jovi

@ DaveW

““1. The Guardian and BBC schemes are voluntary – these are not. People lose their JSA if they don’t sign on.”

What is wrong with that, exactly? You haven’t at any point specified why that is a bad thing. If someone is unemployed, what is there to lose by them doing work experience? All their expenses are paid, too – it’s not like doing voluntary work for charities etc. where you’d still have to cover your costs. If someone is actually determined to get work, these are fantastic opportunities. The only reason I can see to deride them is either snobbery (i.e. people are unemployed and looking for high end jobs and don’t want to consider low paid jobs), or laziness – neither of which are acceptable excuses.”

Which part of this being forced labour is passing you by? They are doing a proper job without being paid a proper wage on the threat of cessation of benefits, which they are entitled to. At least doing voluntary work for a charity would be supporting a good cause, and teach you all the same skills you could learn at Tesco et al, without padding the bottom line of a company that could easily afford to employ you.

““2. Both WE schemes are for only two weeks, in line with HMRC best practice. The Tesco job ad stated ‘permanent’ and most placements are longer than two weeks – giving the company plenty of free labour.”

Agreed insofar that the companies shouldn’t be getting a free ride. They should cover at least some of the costs of JSA – this could be a cost saving tool for the government, too.”

The companies are being paid to take on free labour from a near endless pool of workers they don’t have to pay. Not only are the workfare staff not being paid, they are taking away shifts and overtime work from actual employees. The only people doing well out of Workfare are the companies involved.

As to your idea of the companies covering some of the costs – where, then, is their incentive to bother taking part in the scheme at all? The goodness of their hearts?

““3. The Guardian is a relatively smaller company, working in an industry where it’s relatively hard to get experience. The same is not true of working in supermarkets.”

For long term unemployed it’s hard to get a look-in by anyone, including supermarkets. As a media graduate I struggled to get an interview at any supermarket, and I got turned down by ASDA because they had many more applicants with previous experience. This is the very definition of job snobbery.”

Perhaps if you’d told them you’d work for free for 8 weeks, after which they had no obligation to pay you or indeed see you again, they may have taken you on?

Look, the bottom line is this is exploitative. Jobseekers (largely) want to work, but they also want paid for that work. If, instead of paying the company to take on Workfare clients, the government used part of that sum to pay them minimum wage, there would probably be queues a mile long. It would likely be a confidence boost as well. The unemployed could feel useful again by doing real work, and getting a real wage at the end of it, instead of doing the same work as their temporary colleagues just to maintain subsistence. They’d also get the same work experience, without the distinct feeling of having just been shafted.

@1; “I don’t believe that having looked into this you can be unaware that Tesco have said that the advertisement describing the job as permanent was made in error and they have apologised for their mistake. ”

IME Tesco make a habit of mistakes which work to their favour. The reason I stopped shopping at Tesco a couple of years back was when I realised I was having weekly rows with customer services staff over the differences between posted shelf prices and what I was being charged at checkouts. It didn’t used to be like that but the store management evidently came to a decision that the costs from checking prices were an unnecessary drag on profitability.

Tesco are also starting to shaft their own employees, I know someone who has to do the work of TWO people, on permanent nights. She daren’t speak up about the shabby way she is treated, because she has the permanent threat of a P45…

Through workfare schemes, that company has even more leverage to bully her.

I wonder how many more employees of Tesco face the same treatment?

I also wonder whether that company will start to force her to do the work of THREE people…

Incidentally, how much of a bonus, share options, pay rise etc do the board of directors get as a self served reward on the back of this?

Are the “savings” from treating the real workforce like that the slush fund for their own hyper inflationary pay rise?

@22 Jon Bon Jovi

“Which part of this being forced labour is passing you by? They are doing a proper job without being paid a proper wage on the threat of cessation of benefits, which they are entitled to.”

This is where I think you’re missing the point – JSA isn’t a fundamental right to do what you please. It’s something the government gives you if you are looking for work and unable to find employment yourself.

Asking people on JSA to work (for whatever money) isn’t forced labour any more than standard employment is ‘forced labour’ as in, if you don’t work you don’t get paid. The scheme is borderline exploitative but it’s not forced labour by any stretch of the imagination.


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    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/OdzdWGnA via @libcon

  41. Maureen Czarnecki

    Liberal Conspiracy – Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? http://t.co/L3W6oMud

  42. Jennifer C Krase

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/OdzdWGnA via @libcon

  43. Kyron Hodgetts

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/OdzdWGnA via @libcon

  44. Anna Hayward

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? http://t.co/doKKKRqM

  45. max

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco in exploiting people with 'work experience'? http://t.co/ZXyXtckt

  46. Roan

    Job snobs? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/iOPnqLTs via @libcon

  47. Noelinho

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? http://t.co/ZXyXtckt

  48. Nigel Watson

    Is Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/mcJwFbWH via @libcon

  49. Craig

    .@sunny_hundal in left wing hypocrisy shocker http://t.co/4S4Zqwj5 He probablt thinks the Guardian's tax avoidance is OK too.

  50. Dan Phillips

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? http://t.co/ZXyXtckt

  51. Andrew Walmsley

    The awkward moment when it turns out the Guardian is on workfare too. http://t.co/sevFCIWA

  52. Anth

    Worth a read on #workfare http://t.co/nQaNxihR

  53. G Phi

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? http://t.co/ZXyXtckt

  54. Charlotte Gill

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? http://t.co/ZXyXtckt

  55. lindsay mackie

    Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? http://t.co/ZXyXtckt

  56. “Your starter for ten Iain Duncan Smith” Would you work as an MP or Minister just for your expenses? « ATOS REGISTER OF SHAME

    […] Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? (liberalconspiracy.org) […]

  57. Craig

    @StraightBat1 Apparently the Guardian getting people to work for free is fine according to @sunny_hundal http://t.co/4S4Zqwj5

  58. Five considerations before working for free « Aim High, There Is Plenty Of Room

    […] Is the Guardian as bad as Tesco on work experience? (liberalconspiracy.org) […]

  59. Martell Thornton

    Is Guardian as bad as Tesco on experience? | Liberal Conspiracy: The Tesco job ad stated 'permanent' and most pl… http://t.co/t38x7Opf





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