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Interview with a shop worker: Rigid bosses demand 'flexible' work
The Socialist spoke with a shop worker and union member, Olivia, about her conditions at work.
Tell us a little about your role.
I work as a flexi-keyholder for a clothing retailer which has a good presence on the high street. This means that I get a base rate of pay - which is minimum wage - unless I'm the most 'senior' member of staff. In this instance, I get 50p an hour more, but not in all cases.
When are you not paid the extra?
If I'm the only other 'manager' in when a manager goes on lunch, I'm effectively the most senior member of staff. But I don't get paid the extra if I'm covering breaks, despite being expected to be an acting manager.
I don't receive any overtime rate - which the company clearly benefits from - as, on average, I do more than my contracted hours. I'm also consistently underpaid when doing opens and closes.
I'm paid from 8.45am. But it takes at least half an hour to do an open and I'm expected to open the shop for 9.00am.
Likewise, we close at 5.30pm and I'm paid up until 5.45pm to do a close. But on a good day I'm not out before 6pm.
If I have discrepancies to investigate it can take much longer with no extra pay. Moreover, if something goes wrong or any mistakes are made, I'm disciplined as a manager.
Are you trained to the same level as the rest of the management team?
As my role is only a flexi position I'm in a kind of limbo. I'm constantly told that I'm only a sales assistant by my manager when another manager is in, but I'm treated like a manager when I'm the most senior member of staff.
I'm often not privy to emails or instructions which are only accessible to management. This means I'm not fully equipped to fulfil the role expected of me but I'm quick to be disciplined when, inevitably, my lack of training means I'm not fully aware of what is expected of me when I'm an acting manager!
What are your hours like?
I'm on a 16-hour contract but my hours are far from stable. On an average week, I'll be expected to do 20 hours but sometimes it'll drop to 16 and often I get called in at short notice to cover shifts, doing up to 40 hours with little notice.
How regularly do rotas come out?
It all depends on my manager's mood! Sometimes I get rotas four weeks in advance, but usually a week's rota will only come out a couple of days before that week begins.
Besides which, even if rotas do come out in advance, I'm asked to do extra shifts so rotas are more like a guideline than fixed in stone.
How does this affect you?
I have a six-year-old son and this instability is a nightmare for making childcare arrangements. If I have to work more hours, I have to arrange childcare at short notice.
Also, despite explaining countless times that childcare finishes at 6pm, I am often put on closes as an acting manager, which means I have to get somebody to pick my child up as I'm never out on time.
The hardest part is having to pay for my childcare week by week, whereas I get paid monthly. This means that I'm regularly out of pocket as the pay I would receive for doing a 40-hour week doesn't arrive until the end of the month, but if I've mainly worked 20-hour weeks beforehand it's a real struggle to pay for childcare while still being able to afford to get by.
- Socialist Party member Amy Murphy was elected president of shop workers' union Usdaw last year. She stood on a programme of a £10-an-hour minimum wage, an end to zero-hour contracts, and supporting members taking action to defend jobs, pay, terms and conditions.
- The Socialist Party calls for bringing the retail giants into public ownership under democratic workers' control and management. And in 2017 pushed Usdaw conference to back the nationalisation of failing retail firms.
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