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From: The Socialist issue 1032, 6 March 2019: Cuts must stop - boot the Tories out

Search site for keywords: Retail - Pay - Childcare - Socialist - The Socialist - Union - Usdaw - Workers - Minimum wage - Zero-hour contracts

Interview with a shop worker: Rigid bosses demand 'flexible' work

Workers are human beings, not mannequins to do with as bosses please

Workers are human beings, not mannequins to do with as bosses please   (Click to enlarge)

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.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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