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Women workers: why I hate my job

This article is over 20 years, 8 months old
The recent walkout by BA check-in staff highlighted women workers' constant struggle against sexism, low pay and expensive childcare. Women doing 'traditional' women's jobs describe the pressures that face them
Issue 1864


Diane is a community nurse at a health centre in west London. She has a young daughter

‘My life got a lot better when I left the private sector and worked for a health trust which gives flexitime. Before, I was paying people £8 an hour to take my daughter to school.

‘My shifts started at 8am and sometimes, if others were off sick, I would work until midnight. They put huge pressure on you and made you feel really guilty if you didn’t stay.

‘You get really torn because you need the job, but you need to get to school to get your kids.

‘Life is still a rollercoaster, but now I can take my daughter to school, her performance has got better and she is more confident. Since she was three, I was always worried about picking her up and what happened if she was sick.

‘What gets me down most is feeling that the government doesn’t appreciate what we do, which is reflected in our pay packets.

‘The unions are very active in the hospital and I think that makes a huge difference. Management get to hear our side of the story.’


Heather worked for a leading sports shop chain in Scotland until two weeks ago

‘I got paid to work from 9.30 to 5.30 but it was mandatory to turn up at 9.15. If you were late, they had a ‘three strikes’ policy – three times late and it was a disciplinary.

‘You often had to work late, sometimes up until 6.30 without pay. The managers had a bullying attitude. I wanted to dye my hair blue but they weren’t happy about that at all.

‘We had targets for getting people to take out store cards, but Inverclyde is one of the most deprived areas in Scotland. People were taking out cards they couldn’t afford. Their applications got declined so we didn’t meet our targets.

‘The manageress said, ‘Right, you lot, you can all come in at 8.30am on Saturday for store card training.’ That meant about 20 of us coming in, some on their day off, without any extra pay.

‘We banded together and, apart from one woman, we all stayed away. The manager couldn’t do anything because we stuck together, although she did try to make our lives hell.

‘I earned £3.78 an hour because I am 19. When you are over 21, you get £4.70 an hour. It’s so unfair because everyone is doing the same job.

‘I wanted a weekend off to go to Marxism in London. They kept saying to me, ‘If you want that weekend off, you’ll have to work this shift and that shift.’ ‘I worked a whole month with just two days off so I could get to Marxism. It was pure blackmail. ‘That’s why I left.’


Donna is a secretary at a small firm of accountants in Nottingham

‘It is a really small company, which means when you want to complain about something there is no one to complain to. ‘My job is mainly typing, but if you are a secretary you have to be psychic too-in fact that should be in the job description. ‘They say, ‘Don’t you know this or that?’ I’m like, ‘No, how would I if no one’s told me?’

‘The two partners are both blokes. One tells racist jokes, and when I tell him not to say things like that in front of me he tells me to lighten up, it’s just a joke. ‘But I have seen him chuck CVs in the bin because the applicants are not English.

‘The other is really patronising but he doesn’t know anything, really. ‘I have to look smart and wear heels. When I wanted my lip pierced they said I couldn’t because it wouldn’t look professional. But I don’t even meet any clients.

‘I work a 37 and a half hour week, and don’t really get a lunch break. My friends had a go when I told them I don’t even get time to read a paper.

‘If you try to take a break, you are constantly interrupted by the phone, and by people asking you to do things. ‘I went to work straight after school three years ago. In my first job I got paid £7,000 a year even though I was doing three people’s jobs.

‘That was a construction company and people were always leching after you. I left when they wouldn’t give me a pay rise.’


Helen works at an Argos shop in Newcastle and juggles her job with a young family

‘I earn £4.70 an hour. Obviously, to make up any sort of wage you have to work overtime, but I can’t because of the kids. I can only work evenings when my partner gets home from his job.

‘I used to work for Asda – they were bloody terrible. ‘At the interview they said they were family-friendly employers and I could work the shifts I wanted.

‘But flexitime meant flexible for them to make more money, not to suit us. They kept telling us, ‘The needs of the business come first.’ ‘It was frowned on if you wanted a day off. You had to organise a shift swap with someone else yourself.

‘I worked till 11pm every evening and wanted to change my shifts. You had to put your name on the ‘wish list’ and you had to wait a year, even a year and a half, to change shifts. ‘I know an air stewardess. I know they were afraid of turning up for work and being sent away again. I really identify with what they did.’


Kerry worked in a London shop. She explains why she is not working there now

‘I worked from 10am to 7pm, and I was on my feet for most of that time. You got 10 minutes break in the morning and afternoon, and an hour for lunch. But if there was a staff shortage you had to rush it.

‘It did get a bit relentless because you have to push people to buy things. There was pressure to meet sales targets and average transaction value targets. ‘If you didn’t meet the targets they wanted to retrain you, and if you never met them it would be out the door.

‘But some days are just quiet. There’s nothing you can do about it. ‘If the window displays weren’t up to scratch, they expected you to stay late to sort it out. ‘And there was this dress code. I wear three rings on each hand, but I was only allowed to wear two.

‘I was OK with that, but someone said I still wasn’t meeting the dress code. They decided I could only wear one ring on each hand and I had to tie my hair up. ‘It was just pettiness, silly rules, some kind of control thing.

‘They didn’t like it when I got union representation for a meeting with management.’


Harriet works as a school janitor in Greenock, near Glasgow

‘I used to have three cleaning jobs, from 7am to 10am at a post office, from 10am to 1.30pm in a sorting office, and then at a school down the road. ‘I got fed up with the hours and moved to just working in the school. Then I applied for the janitor’s job in that school.

‘The personnel department assumed I was a man and sent the form to Mr Richardson. They should know better, really. ‘Some of the blokes didn’t like it much either. They thought I was after their jobs and messed me about, hiding keys and not telling me things.

‘I take home about £300 every fortnight – that’s with overtime. The work isn’t that stressful, but you don’t need people putting up obstacles. It was sexism. ‘I have two daughters, one at school and one at university. ‘They both have part time jobs, but we still need the money.

‘When my husband died, my Mam and Dad watched the girls, but I always had a problem paying the bills. You’d get these cards, and then my hours were cut and I couldn’t pay them off.

‘The work does knacker you, but I try my best not to be a total prisoner. ‘I believe in standing up and being counted. ‘I don’t see why those earning all the money should dictate to us.’

Some names have been changed to protect identities

Write and tell us what your working life is like [email protected] or Socialist Worker, PO Box 82, London E3 3LH


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