Socialist Worker

Vulnerable workers' voices: ‘I never know if I’ll have work’

Issue No. 2102

The TUC report includes many interviews with vulnerable workers, giving snapshots into the reality of life for many in Britain.

Angela is 37 years old and has worked full time as an office cleaner for a large cleaning contractor for almost seven years. She has had to take time off work because of a miscarriage and serious illness.

Within six weeks of returning to work after four months sick leave, Angela was sacked for taking “too much time off sick”. With union support she was able to get her job back on appeal.

On an average day Angela starts work at 6am and gets a 40-minute unpaid break at 9am. She then works from 9.40am through till 1.15pm, despite her contractual hours ending at 12.45pm.

Jozef is a Polish migrant worker in his 30s. He is highly educated with two degrees.

Jozef works in a food processing factory. The job is low paid and precarious.

He works four ten-hour shifts and one half day a week.

Workers can be sent home if there is not enough work. He says, “With some of the managers, if they don’t like somebody, it’s very subjective – ‘I don’t like you, you go. I like you, you stay.’

“Although I have a contract, I never know what will happen and whether I will keep the job.”

Illness

Jozef says he is almost constantly on antibiotics and struggling with illness because of the conditions but has to go into work because he cannot afford to lose any pay.

Another food processing agency worker said, “I finished my job and I went to the agency office and said to the manager I am waiting for my money now.

“The manager said this is not possible. I said I need money. I am working every day and I don’t have money for rent or food. The manager called security – security said get out.”

Julie’s main home-working job was making crackers. Her pay was a cash-in-hand piece-rate of £35–£40 per cracker “kit”.

Kits contained 1,800 crackers and each took around 40 hours to make, giving a pay rate of under £1 per hour. “If you don’t get it perfect you don’t get your pay,” she said.

The work was also insecure and irregular. “You never knew if you would have work in every week,” said Julie. “They could turn up and say, ‘can you do these and we’ll pick them up in the morning?’ and the following week you’d have no work.”


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