Thursday, 5 December 2013

Just how badly do you want

to get a job or keep a job these days? I know there are a lot of people out there working ridiculous hours, bringing work home at night, putting in extra unpaid time and not taking some - or even all - of their annual leave entitlement because they fear losing their jobs. There are other people taking advantage of this too.
It will always happen, especially when so many people are now in "part-time", "casual", "permanent-casual" and "share" positions. (I am still not sure how you can be a "permanent-casual" worker.)
I know teachers who are, supposedly, "part-time". They are working three days a week but if they don't turn up on the other two days a week then their commitment is questioned.  I know other people employed part-time or on a casual basis who also put in many more hours than they are actually paid for.
There is also the iniquitous business of "employing" young graduates, "giving them work experience", having them "volunteer" for a specific project so that the employer gets another pair of hands for nothing. "If you really want a job with us then you will work for free on this project."
One of the worst offenders is the public service. It is now almost mandatory for a young graduate to put in the "volunteer" hours. It has been going on for years because I was told the same thing and was foolish enough to do it until I realised they had no intention of employing me, just using me. Other people discovered the same thing. Oddly they were often the people who were the most able. Perhaps they were seen as a greater threat to those already there? I don't know.
But last week it seems one "employer" did go too far - or rather someone responsible for taking a young man on went too far. This young man has just completed his degree. He was anxious to get some work experience in over the summer before he starts a postgraduate course. He was prepared to work for a minimum wage just to get some experience.
He had done a fortnight at the workplace and worked both days of the previous weekend...a twelve day stretch without a break. He was expecting that it would be fine to take next Saturday off. There's an excellent reason for taking next Saturday off. His sister is getting married and, because their father is deceased, he is "giving her away".  It is a double reason to be there.
The rosters came out. He was there to work on the Saturday. He went and explained. The response, unbelievably, was "Well if you aren't prepared to work at least on Saturday morning then you don't really want a job with us do you?"
His response was, "I've enjoyed what I was doing but if that is how you treat your workers I don't want to work here."
I heard all this not from the young man himself. I have never met him. I heard it all from the man who actually owns the company in question. Word got back to him and he was, rightly, appalled. He has also done the right thing. He offered the young man a (paid) position in another area for the summer - one where he is not expected to work at weekends. He knows his own boys wanted to go out with their mates at that age, something this boy has not had much chance to do. He's a decent man and, having once talked to his employees as a group, I know he is highly regarded and that he is not at all happy with the employee responsible for the rosters.
Yes, it all worked out in the end but it might easily not have done. It made me wonder how many people are being bullied into working long hours for less than they should be paid, if they are being paid at all. And it also made me wonder who is really benefitting? Is it always "the big boss" or is it sometimes people in the middle who, sometimes under pressure but sometimes sheer bullies, make the most of their position?
I wonder if it is time to assess workplace relations in ways that, out of fear and apparent inability to do anything about the situation,  don't get mentioned often enough?


helen devries said...

Tell me.
I was a labour lawyer for years when protection was being established....I am horrified by the bullying and exploitation which was opened up under the Thatcher years.

Philip C James said...

Bravo Zulu, the owner for responding; it's even worse when the companies are so large that ownership is diffuse and CEOs so divorced from their workforce.

Zero Hours Contracts are iniquitous as I'm experiencing personally. Last shit (sorry, shift, Freudian slip) I worked was offered at such short notice I almost didn't make it in to the site. When I got there, I had only worked 3 hours when they sent all casuals home as the work had run out. At the minimum wage, it didn't even cover the cost of petrol to get there (impossible to cycle, or use public transport to reach this consolidated, efficient logistics centre).

Working conditions were improved in the C19 by quiet revolt; we now have a generation of politicians who are tied in so closely to the rich and their further enrichment that I question why anyone bar the 1% votes for them.

Remember all those predictions about how automation would make us rich and liberate us from the need to work? Well one out of two ain't bad...

Anonymous said...

Well done that boss!