The Socialist 6 November 2019 |
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- A day in the life of a warehouse worker
Incompetent bosses use tech to bully us
- Now they're after our Christmas bonus too
Warehouse, photo Trougnouf/CC (Click to enlarge)
Connor O'Farrell, warehouse worker and Usdaw union member
Management at my warehouse uses new technology to harass the workers - and has even proposed a new pay deal which includes scrapping Christmas bonuses for most of the shopfloor.
Rather than every worker getting £100, five managers would draw lots for a bonus for one worker each! The managers themselves would all still get bonuses, of course. Our union, Usdaw, has rightly recommended we reject this 'deal'.
Meanwhile, Tesco management is increasing the use of wearable technology - arm-mounted computers - on warehouse workers. Bosses say this is for 'increased productivity'. Of course, that means tracking workers every minute we're on shift.
But management can also use the guided picking software to keep certain workers deemed 'trouble' away from new recruits - and for intimidation and bullying.
For example, in my workplace, there is heavier lifting involved with produce such as bananas or bread trays. The shift-planning and rotation software has an override function, so managers can have the same staff bear the brunt of this workload on every shift - in the non-chilled chamber of the warehouse.
Up until recently there wasn't even a water cooler in there. Management only put one in begrudgingly after a worker fainted.
And if 'productivity' is their only aim, why slow down the training of workers? Many workers, including myself, have been waiting almost a year since finishing contracted probation for training on other positions in the warehouse.
The selective memory - and often outright incompetence - of management has led to this not happening. They also find petty reasons to keep new workers in their probation period, meaning they have to work the same job for less money.
New Tesco contracts have workers doing seven days on, four days off. This rota bypasses the unsociable hours bonus won in previous contracts!
Why claim we are given 30-minute breaks when in reality it is 25? Why not pause our productivity measures on our registered lunch, toilet and smoke breaks? Why refuse to have label printers on each truck, instead forcing us to go back and forth between just one or two?
Workers regularly get told family illness and childcare problems are irrelevant to the Tesco budget.
It's not about maximising our 'productivity'. It's about management keeping workers overworked, underpaid, and toeing the line - maximising profit productivity, not the efficiency of the job.
I was called in for a meeting regarding my 'productivity' - even though my performance was not the issue, my 'still time' was. After refusing to have the meeting without a union rep present multiple times, they gave up trying as they had nothing on my conduct or performance.
But I was unjustly fired in 2017 from my first precarious warehouse job at Tuffnells for arguing against being underpaid and ignored.
Ironically, during my 'still time' at the current workplace, I was engaged in discussion with an agency worker. She had not been paid her full wages, and at the moment Usdaw only seems to want to organise contracted staff.
So I had to put her in contact with the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain - and within a week and one meeting, her pay had been restored. A minor workplace victory that made my shift bearable!
Invasive management technology is becoming widespread across firms. Further attempts to stifle freedom of association in the workplace should be anticipated.
But while management seems clueless about how to run the workplace efficiently, relying on snooping and bullying, the expertise shown by workers on the job and together on strike begs the question: could we not run our workplaces ourselves?
This collective control is the basis of a real socialist society. We have both the labour power, and the knowhow. Currently we are only out-organised - not outnumbered!