Socialist Worker

‘I can’t afford to buy the Xmas cards I pack’

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 1932

WORKERS ARE forced to endure Third World pay and conditions as they produce and pack the goods that are making supermarkets obscene profits this Christmas.

There are 1.2 million homeworkers in Britain. Many are paid well below the minimum wage, sometimes as low as £1.40 an hour. They have no sick pay, health and safety checks or other employment rights.

One homeworker from Yorkshire told Socialist Worker, “Homeworking is like slave labour. I have three hyperactive children and two of them have behavioural problems, so I really need a job I can do at home.

“I pick the stuff up from a supplier and bring it home to pack. I’ve just been packing Christmas cards for a top brand. I’ve been putting Morrison and Tesco labels on the back.

“There are six cards in each pack and you get £8 for every 1,000 you pack. That’s supposed to be a well paid job.

“I’ve also been packing five tablets into boxes where you get £9 for every 1,000 boxes you pack. I’ve put labels on Morrison’s Yorkshire puddings and worked for Asda putting the price labels on packs of food.

“You are under pressure all the time. My little lad’s had to help me. Friends have come round to visit and they’ve helped me out.

“I sometimes work 12-hour days doing this, and I’m lucky if I earn £200 a month. I’ve sometimes got £300 a month, but you really have to work hard to get that.

“I can sometimes be working until two or three in the morning. It’s a scandal, and the companies are getting away with it. The government aren’t doing much about it.

“Homeworkers don’t get paid anything like they should do. You only get work when things are selling. Last month I got paid £79 for doing Christmas cards. The other month I got £44.

“But you’re so desperate that you’ll do anything for money.

“The supermarkets should be going to these places and finding out whether they’re paying a proper wage. The big ones don’t seem to be bothered anyway, as long as the job’s done.

“I might be packing these Christmas cards, but I can’t afford them. If I went out and got a job I wouldn’t be working half as many hours and I’d get paid a hell of a lot more.

“I had to give homeworking up a few years ago because I was just so exhausted. I used to work until 3am, get three hours sleep and then start again at 6am. I nearly had a nervous breakdown.

“But I needed the money and had to go back to it. I could only get the kids Christmas presents last year because I got tax credits.

“I haven’t got the money for Christmas this year either. It’s bad news.”

Linda Devereux, from the National Group on Homeworking, which campaigns for rights and decent pay for homeworkers, told Socialist Worker, “Most things that homeworkers are making they couldn’t afford to buy themselves.

“The work is far from flexible. If a store wants more Christmas cards by the next day it might not know until 4pm. That means that homeworkers would have to work all through the night to get them ready.

“We are targeting the big four supermarkets—Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Safeway and Asda—saying that they should sign up to minimum labour standards.

“A whole host of things that you would assume are being made abroad or in factories are being assembled by homeworkers—Christmas cards, wrapping paper, ribbons, crayons, tights, electronic circuitboards, clothes and other garments.

“It is done by predominantly women workers, and is especially prevalent in areas of high unemployment. Ex-miners in South Wales are assembling small electronic parts.

“People are only being paid a piece rate. For tights you get 7p for every dozen you pack, so to get the minimum wage of £4.85 you would have to pack 70 sets of 12 in an hour.

“We are hearing a lot from homeworkers who do not receive the minimum wage. They have very few protective rights.

“The government needs to look at the status of homeworkers as they have no protection at the moment. We are looking for allies in our campaign.”

For more information go to or phone the National Group on Homeworking on 0113 245 4273.

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Article information

Sat 18 Dec 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1932
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