Socialist Worker

Case study: ‘You had to stand there and be demoralised’

Issue No. 2177

John found a job as a street cleaner. The council used a mix of permanent and agency workers for their street cleaning operation.

John had been recruited through one of the two agencies that had offices on site at the council premises.

Afterwards he discovered that he was on significantly lower pay and worse conditions than directly employed colleagues, including minimum wage pay, no employer sick pay and no fixed number of working hours.

Moreover, for the first three or four months, John would sometimes have only two days work for what he had been led to believe was a full-time job.

John and his agency colleagues received no training and had to pay for the mandatory personal protective equipment from direct wage deductions.

An average day would involve turning up at the employer’s premises at 5am and waiting around for about an hour to see if he would be selected for “rounds” with permanent workers.

If not selected, he would have to wait until about 8am.

If not needed, he would be sent home without pay.


In John’s first two months this happened regularly. He was able to secure regular selection only by showing up consistently during that time.

John found that agency workers who took days off as holiday would be put to the back of the queue for selection.

He says that this was used to discourage workers from taking time off—effectively barring them from taking any holidays.

John says, “The job wasn’t that bad and the people you worked with weren’t that bad, but it was just the terms and conditions were poor.

“You had to stand there and be demoralised in front of other lads...It did nothing for your confidence.”

Because of the low rate of pay and irregular hours, John had to take a second job as a part-time cleaner in order to pay his rent and bills.

This meant that some weeks he worked over 70 hours.

John says he was both conscious of, and frustrated by, the poor and unequal pay and conditions.

This prompted him to get involved in a trade union that had begun organising among the workforce.

The day after attending a strike, John was called into the agency office and told that he was no longer required. But the threat of further action got him reinstated.

This case study is taken from the TUC-backed Commission on Vulnerable Employment. Go to »

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