Working Mythology

1-“People LIKE the flexibility of Zero Hour Contracts”

When I worked for Comet in the 80s and 90s, despite being contracted for 35 hours, I never knew from week to week when those hours would be. The ‘excuse’ was that the store needed to be flexible with demand and customer flow, and ‘to give staff variety’ instead of an easy routine.

My experience is that I felt constantly destabilised by knowing only on a Saturday afternoon which my day off would be the next week. I couldn’t help wondering what was so wrong with a  fixed weekly rota, which with goodwill would be flexible to illness and holidays… after all, it would save the manager the time to make up the rota.

I was ‘invited’ to a ‘leadership evaluation seminar’ once… that is, told to turn up at a motel in best bib and tucker for informal assessment regarding my suitability for management training. There were several different ‘workshops’ and I was tiring of all the bullshit when The Exercise Of The Hours was unveiled to us. It went something like this: If Bill is on holiday and Mary has phoned in sick, complete this hours chart for next week’s hours, bearing in mind that Tom and Harry need Tuesday and Thursday off. 

I asked for this and last weeks’ hours sheets, to be told they weren’t relevant. So, much to the amusement of the other candidates (laughing AT me, mind), I declared that this exercise was moot… then explained why.

“As a manager, I would want my store to be high-performing and with the best trained, most able and willing staff in the company. One method I would use would be to give everybody regular basic hours. In other words, Harry here would always have a Thursday off so he could plan his life around that, and any extra hours would be by an ad hoc negotiation. Everyone knows where they are, simple routine, less work for me and if extra cover is needed, management gets out on the floor and gets their hands dirty… which builds a bond with the staff and leads to better morale.”

The stunned silence at these words of Heresy was as deep as if I had walked into a Xtian church during a communion service and took a shit on the alter. Needless to say, I wasn’t selected.

But I know from other experiences that what I had said held true. Till the time I left, I never had overtime from that point onwards, and sometimes went for nearly two weeks without a 24 hour period to call my own.

2: “We’ll give you more money in your pocket by introducing a lower tax rate and higher personal allowances before paying tax and national insurance.”

In truth, this is a smokescreen and deprives the country of much needed revenue… but also deprives low-paid workers of something far more important: feeling included in society. Each year, the tax threshold would rise, and every year the net difference it made was pence per week. I was being told by politicians that I would be better off, and all I had to show for it was maybe enough to get a cheap bar of chocolate. Then, the 10p tax band came in and that added 50p a week.

Aside from that, though, I felt throwaway… disposable. I wasn’t being paid enough in a full time job to be worthy to contribute my hard earned shekels to pay for roads, hospitals, schools and police… or to contribute to other people’s welfare payments. I felt devalued and unvalued, ultimately disenfranchised and implicitly not important enough to vote. So I didn’t.

There is only one way to reverse such alienation: ensure that everyone has a (better than) living wage, and that everyone pays tax and national insurance – after all, back in the 50s when the Welfare State first started, despite workers losing a few bob, they all felt included and considered that this stuff of society was for everyone. It DID draw people together.

3: “The Minimum Wage has lifted people out of poverty… to attract the best Upper Management talent we must compete with high salary packages…” Many people know that upon asking about wages, the reply is that the minimum wage is ‘the going rate.’ Thirty years ago, if companies wanted the best staff at ANY level, they would compete with a few pence extra an hour, longer lunchtimes and so on. I nearly destroyed my tv when I watched one Undercover Boss episode and, yea verily this Boss did utter unto one of his minions, “I can’t do anything about the low wages…” Er, yes, you can. Pay more, you skinflint.

At Comet, we had a complete change of Board Members for the third time in two years and the new board did a tour, fetching up at where I worked and swanning in. I was introduced to a Fat Controller who effusively asked what I was looking forward to about their new and glorious leadership. I look this twonk in the eye and said,

“You’re irrelevant to me.” I let it sink in then continued. “If we say that the company is a single store, and you guys are the management team, then you can swap and change as much you like, and we staff who generate the turnover YOU need for a successful business will keep on doing what we do.

“BUT,” I went on after a brief pause, “if WE all quit and you had to hire new staff without product knowledge and company experience, then turnover and profits drop, and the company fails. Ergo, you need us, but we don’t need you.”

Some people just can’t handle the truth.

And thirty years ago, when I started work, it was standard practice to negotiate your wages at the interview. Yes, there’d be a low starting rate for an introductory period, but you’d immediately say what you thought you were worth. Companies who wanted the best – even cleaners – WOULD negotiate and deal.

Before cleaning in hospitals was contracted out to the lowest bidder, attempting to make the most profit by buying cheaper less effective cleaning products and not paying decent wages, there was no such thing as a superbug dissolving people’s flesh and so forth. At the time, hospital porters and cleaners left in droves because they couldn’t live on the paycuts. How many people’s lives would have been better off as a knock on of these companies having the same attitude to their cleaners as their directors? Countless. So it’s simple: you want the best? Pay the best. And realise that the true wealth creators are the people WHO ACTUALLY WORK FOR A LIVING generating turnover, producing goods, maintaining things etc.

THESE are the people who make the company work, and if they are well-rewarded with the loyalty and generosity of those for whom they toil, then they will return that loyalty with productivity and also feel an engaged part of society by paying plenty of tax and national insurance while still having plenty left over… and voting for their political benefactors.

I wonder… am I the ONLY one to see this as the way forward? The way to make ours a better place?

Or maybe The Powers That Be don’t want these things..?

Now that just doesn’t make sense.

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13 thoughts on “Working Mythology”

      1. Well, I nearly had one of the 1st smartphones, then had something else and got hooked on twitter. THEN realised how good my 2/3g signal is which meant no waiting to online at a friend or the library or the cost of landline. 🙂

      2. I have a house phone, but only two people have the number, and I share a mobile with my partner, only one person in my life has that number. I hate phones, prefer email.

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