WorkersWildWest #4 – Free Working Class Paper for West-London
Click here for PDF version: WWW4_finalproof
Nearly weeing yourself waiting for your flatmate to finish his bath? Freaking out between shift-work and trying to find childcare for the kids? Feeling a bit awkward about asking your new flatmate not to leave her toenail clippings lying about on the kitchen table? Living with your parents, although your own hair is getting grey (from worrying about the rent price for a one bedroom flat?!) Any of this sound vaguely familiar..?
If it does then welcome to the brave new world of working class life in London! The family structure is overstretched and at the same time we might have to share flats with ‘strangers’. We can complain about it or try to make the best of this new situation. We wrote down some of our and friends’ experiences, some thoughts on family life, the challenges we face, and the need for stronger friendship circles.
“A friend of ours and her husband live in a small double room in Southall. She works day shifts in a distribution centre, he works 12-hour night-shifts in a vegetable warehouse, cash in hand because he is here ‘illegally’. Their five year-old daughter is with her grandparents in Punjab, India. They haven’t seen her in three years. Their visa application is pending. Even though they would not have any major money problems if they went back to India, the woman does not want to go back because she has “more freedom” here. They have recently had another baby. Now the three of them share their 9 square-metre room. She cannot claim maternity leave because her visa status means that she shouldn’t really be working.”
“My friend works in a warehouse, her husband works, too. Their four-year-old son spent a year or two with his grandparents in Poland. They decided to bring him here to the UK, but due to lack of childcare the grandmother also came over. She does not speak English and the daughter-in-law is unhappy about ‘living too close together’. The cost of childcare means that many families have to rely on grandparents, whether they want to or not.”
“We advertised a room for rent in our flat in Greenford. Every second call came from parents with a small child or baby looking for a room/ shared flat accommodation. Our flatmates didn’t want a screaming kid around disturbing their sleep ‘cos they do shift work, so we had to say no to them…”
“A friend left Spain to work abroad when the crisis hit, where he lived on his own for three years. He came to London to live with his (Spanish) mother and (Pakistani) stepfather. Doing a minimum wage job means he can’t rent his own flat. Shortly after his arrival his stepdad’s younger brother, wife and two children moved in. Both the stepdad and his brother work as cab drivers, their wives do the housework and childcare. Initially they stayed as family guests, but then they didn’t find an affordable flat to move out to. Since then they argue about who works how much, who uses how much gas and electricity, who pays for the bills.”
The low-wage London life puts a strain on the expectations and obligations of helping out your family. The ‘low wage – high rent’ trap does not only affect workers who have come from abroad. Many of our colleagues working as road sweepers in Greenford – men in their 50s who have been born here – share flats or rooms or have had to move back in with their elderly parents because living alone is unaffordable.
Crisis In The Family – Solitary Confinement
Jobs are stressful and time consuming, we change our jobs and move house frequently. All this puts an enormous strain on friendships in general. People have fewer close friends today than they had 20 years ago. In a recent study one in eight men said that they have no close friends at all. Strikingly, married men are twice as likely to have no friends than unmarried men. For many men the family becomes the main arena of emotional life. At the same time the family and marriages themselves become more fragile. Families and couple relationships are overburdened both economically and emotionally – men (more than women) expect that the partner alone takes care of all the emotional needs.
In a world where people have less time for friendships and the general social environment is cold and anonymous, ‘romantic love’ and family are seen as a ‘safe haven’. But while it is impossible for any relationship to provide all of a person’s emotional needs, nevertheless, if needs are not met it is seen as a personal failure. Again, this is especially by men, who are often taught to believe that the only person they should open up to is their partner. Playing the hard dudes at work and crying into our beers at home.
Family and romantic partnerships are also one of the few places where working class men can feel that they are not the lowest of the low – they have at least one person ‘below them’, who they can control. So while for many men the family might seem a ‘safe haven’, for many women (and children) it is place of potential violence. External stress, isolation and power play often escalates.
“I live in a shared flat. There are three couples living in three rooms, but we keep to ourselves. Most of us are not on the rent contract, so we couldn’t claim housing benefit if we lost our jobs. The lack of space can be annoying, in particular in the small kitchen and waiting in front of an occupied bathroom. So you try and give each other some space. That goes so far that the boundary between ‘giving each other space’ and ‘ignoring each other’ becomes blurry. So when I hear arguments coming from the room next door I am not sure how best to intervene. The guy seems to bully his partner, I once heard him shouting and hitting her. I asked her about it afterwards, but she said that everything was fine. Her English and job prospects are worse than his. She also stays in her room a lot, alone, waiting for him to come home. So she seems pretty dependent on him, financially and emotionally.”
Every week two women in England and Wales die as a result of domestic violence. The home is still the most likely place for women to get raped, injured or murdered. In most cases the aggressor is a partner, ‘friend’ or relative: only 7% of reported rapes in London are carried out by strangers. Overcrowding and low incomes mean that in a personal crisis working class couples can’t give each other space, which means that things can escalate more easily and chances for escape become more difficult. But living close together could also mean that flatmates hear what is going on and intervene – if the wall of ‘privacy’ does not stop them.
A Better Alternative?
So what to do? Government cuts to social care, housing benefit etc. force many of us to rely on the family, while at the same time the economic strain and stress makes family life way more difficult. This is a deadly trap! At the same time we are often forced to live in close proximity with other people. Let’s make the best of it!
To make our lives easier, we need a bigger circle of friends, who can support each other, be it with childcare, housework or the ups and downs of life. What friendship circles mainly need is time and space – and under current conditions in London we have to fight for both. We have to struggle for higher wages, so we can work a bit less. We need some community space where we can meet, talk, cook, have fun – there are a lot of empty offices around, but the rent is too high. Maybe we could occupy them, so that we can use them together?! But in the meantime there are little things we can do, in our shared flat and beyond.
“Four of us in our flat work on different shifts and days in the week. It was a hassle to go shopping individually, to store stuff individually, to cook your little meals for yourself. We found an arrangement where everyone pays £20 per week into a food kitty. We now share the cooking and tend to eat together more often. Instead of every day, you now only have to cook every third or fourth day. We also save money like this. It took some time to find out what each of us likes to eat and so on, but that was no big deal.”
When you share a flat the first step would be to open the books: many working class people rip off other working class people by making extra money by sub-letting. They get 30 or 40 quid per month out of it, but the relationships between flatmates are spoilt. Those who ‘pay more’ will treat the others as those who ‘have to provide or do more’. Share the costs equally and organise the household together!
We can take this further, we can make spaces to live and play, and build a real community out of our shared situation. We can share housework, childcare, and transport, and save money and time and claw some of our life back from work. We can share skills in maintaining a shared home. We can talk to each other about problems in our homes and try and resolve them instead of trying to impose upon each other. We can try to support each other and not just look away when a flatmate is obviously suffering.
We can also try to help each other in other ways. If you share a flat and hear domestic violence or abuse going on, if your workmate tells you about trouble at home, get involved. This is easier said than done, but we – as exploited and oppressed people – have to learn to trust each other. We cannot delegate our problems to anyone else, and increasingly, no one else is willing or able to help us. For the men around us: let’s stop playing the big bloke around our (work-) mates and trust each other with our emotional shit.
In order to struggle for better conditions at work we need some joy and celebration after work. Let’s invite our friends over more often and we’ll never walk alone!
Introduction to reports from various workplaces in Greenford, Park Royal, Southall
The government made a big deal out of increasing the minimum wage in April 2016. Since then, most of us have realised that not much more money ends up in our pockets at the end of the week. Some of us get less working tax credit than before the rise, some have to pay more tax or national insurance contribution. In other cases the landlord – surprise, surprise – increased the rent, creaming off the minimum wage hike. Many companies have reacted to the ‘increase’ by: cutting our hours (see Wealmoor), or bonuses or whatever little perks they used to give us. Often they use the threat of redundancies to make us swallow worse conditions (see Amey or Bakkavor).
The companies still have big cash and can pay more. If they want to, and it seems good for their image, they miraculously manage to find the money from somewhere. If even a discounter like Lidl can pay £9.35 per hour for shelf stacking, other companies can do at least as much – for the people making the stuff that goes onto the shelves or warehouses pickers that make sure the stuff gets to the supermarket…
But let’s stop moaning and get organised to fight for more. As you can see from the short reports, we are all in a fairly similar situation. If only 10% of us would get their heads and bodies together, we would be enough people to support each other and make it clear to our bosses: if you want to cut our jobs or money, if you don’t cough up some of your cash, we gonna blockade your business – and we mean it. It’s not rocket science, we just have to get out of our corner and bring some of our colleagues along with us.
Come to the film screenings, use the online forum and/or send us an email about what you think!
Address: Greenford Rd.
Workers: 300, out of which around 100 through agency
Pay: £7.41 for sweeping/loading (after 12 weeks), £8.50 for van driving
If you live in Ealing, by now you will have received your new wheelie bin from the council. Whether you love wheelie bins or hate them, the fact is that Amey – the company responsible for street cleansing, recycling and refuse collection in Ealing – have announced that they will cut over 80 jobs as a result of their introduction. They claim that less workers are needed with wheelie bins. And they not only cut bin (wo)men jobs, they also plan to reduce the number of street sweepers “because the streets will automatically be so much cleaner with the wheelie bins”.
The wheelie bin story is basically an easy excuse to cut staff and to put the same work on less people. This has been happening at the depot for the last two decades. After the outsourcing to various private companies (May Gurney, Enterprise) the workload has increased and wages have come down. Nowadays, nearly half of the 300 workers at the depot are not even employed by Amey, but through various temp agencies, amongst others, Hays, Berry Recruitment and Extra Drivers. Often the ‘temps’ have been working at the depot for several years. Wages are low (£7.41) and they put more and more streets on people to sweep or for collection. In other boroughs of London (e.g. Hackney) agency sweepers and bin (wo)men get paid £9.40 per hour.
Amey is not a poor company. They are part of the Spanish group Ferrovial, which owns, amongst others, Bristol, Belfast, Glasgow and Southampton airports and 25% shares in Heathrow. The main family behind it owns assets worth $8 billion. While some people make major bucks while buying up infrastructure, those who sweep, build or maintain this infrastructure get poverty wages. So yeah, don’t come to us with “we ain’t got no money!”
The GMB union called for meetings about the redundancy issue. Only the permanent workers are members and were invited, although the temps are probably the first who would get the sack. At the meeting the external GMB full-timer started by saying that there was not too much to announce and that “he does not know why ’they’ asked me to come and hold the meeting’, referring to management!
He continued: “Let the refuse people go, I have a list of 60 people who want to take redundancies”, he then calculated the redundancy packages. He claimed that you have to be over 55 and working for more than 20 years in the company to get a good package (though even people working there for eight years would only be paid around £3,000).
We can understand that older colleagues want to take redundancy and get their bones into a dry place, but this shouldn’t mean that we just let these jobs go! As our GMB man said: “It is tough out there”, so we should try to re-fill these jobs, otherwise they are lost forever. A lot of guys say that the union accepts everything management and councillors tell them. But then it is up to us to do what we think is right and necessary. Just complaining won’t cut it. Only fighting pays: recycling workers, outsourced to Kier Ltd. for Somerset Council, were getting paid £2/hour less than other workers doing a similar job a few miles away. So they worked to rule, refused overtime and took several days of all-out strike action. Kier backed down in January 2016. An 18% pay rise over three years, front loaded. Everyone will now be paid above a Living Wage (£8.25).
With the support of other local workers we could take Amey on – get in touch! Discuss it while litter picking or rummaging through other peoples’ recycling boxes or wheeling around them new bins!
Job: Samosa and spring-roll production
Address: Windmill Lane, Southall
Workers: Around 700- 800
Noon Products was founded in 1989 and taken over by Kerry Foods in 2005. The company produces 2.4 million ready-meals in four Southall and Greenfordbased plants and supplies them to Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrissons, Ocado, M&S. The four factories employ around 2,200 workers including around 1,000 temporary workers.
The agency (GI Group) supplies labour to the four factories according to demand. If there are no orders then you won’t get a shift (zero hours). However you may be sent to another factory at short notice, if say someone is injured or calls in sick. This includes being called at 06:40 asking if you can come in for 08:00 – in the first few months of working there you feel obliged to say yes.
As a factory operative you can be sent to do any kind of job in the production department ranging from washing trays to working on the assembly line. Slightly higher skilled women workers make samosas and spring onion rolls. They are paid piece-rate. Sometimes it takes time for the dough to be supplied, then they lose money. The kitchen workers make the mixtures for the products using huge metal baths. They often work 12-hour shifts according to demand.
Some products are only required to be put into machines. For example the battered chicken is first put in a mincer then placed on a conveyer belt where it is coated in flour and fed into an industrial fryer. All the workers have to do is separate the chicken pieces so they don’t get stuck together. The onion bhajis are made using a large machine. First the ingredients are put in a mixer, then the mixture is placed into a compactor which churns out onion bhajis balls which are flattened by a roller and taken into the fryer. The speed at which you have to work varies from job to job, but 95% of the time it is unrelentingly fast. On the packaging department assembly line you work as fast as the line goes. If they know you are quick at packing the products then they will often understaff the lines.
I personally worked at 4 different factories and 10 different departments before I was made permanent after 5 months. As a temp I was even sent to work at a different company (Bakkavor in Harrow). Lots of the information is hazy and based on rumours. Lots of workers don’t even know the terms of their contract e.g. the overtime rate is £10 per hour at one factory and only £8.71 in another! But the agency pays different from worker to worker. The extra pay for forklift drivers and night time bonus also varies, as do the shift hours and paid breaks.
Permanents mainly complain about the wage. Some work there for seven years and are still on the minimum. Many temps complain about the working times (not enough and random shifts). They also have disputes about (delayed) payments, sometimes they go to the office in small groups. Everyone complains about the work intensity. Overtime on a Saturday is also an issue. Because we work in different factories, we should use the online forum to exchange information between each other: https://forum. netzwerkit.de/c/workerswildwest
Job: fruit and veg packing
Address: Wealmoor, Unit 5, Auriol Drive, Greenford
Workers at the Greenford plant unload fruit and veg from trucks and aeroplane containers arriving from Heathrow and package them for supermarkets. Most of us are forced to work long hours from 7am till 9pm – with Wealmoor paying only the minimum.
There are 4 conveyor ‘lines’ for sorting and quality checking vegetables. Mainly women work on the lines, standing for 14 hours a day. The intake department unloads the trucks. The aeroplane containers are very low, with the boxes inside weighing up to 30 kilos – it is back-breaking.
After the minimum wage increase in April 2016 management told us that instead of 5 days a week we will only work 4 days in future – which is still 48 hours per week on average. While some might be happy about an extra day off, many worry about the wage cut. Wealmoor could pay us more. They made £13 million profit in 2015!
We were told this was a possibility back in November and in January this year, we were told that Bakkavor had lost the Tesco mash contract, worth £32 million. We have been told that this means:
– 33 employees at Elveden have to change their shift pattern to Friday-Monday
– working to a ‘banked hours system’ which means we carry on getting paid for 40 hours but work 38 hours – but then we have to make up the hours during the year when it suits the company
– for us to take on more responsibilities from the work that used to be done by agency staff
– for 315 staff at Cumberland to work the 4-day Rainbow shift pattern
– voluntary redundancies but with a possibility of large scale redundancies
– introducing a nightshift at the Cumberland and Elveden cookhouse
– cutting shift and bank holiday premiums
– restrictions on annual leave
Why should we accept any of this?! Bakkavor announced £30 million profit in November 2015! Just because they lost the mash contract doesn’t mean they’re going down. In fact, they just hired 370 new people at their dessert factory in Nottingham! Why should employees have to work more, with the line getting faster and faster, with the moussakas, lasagnas, houmous, vine leaves, ready- meals and samosas flying past our eyes, just so that Bakkavor management can keep making their massive profits?! For many years, they have been paying us poverty wages, thinking that because we are ‘foreign’ and can’t speak good English, that this was okay. Some of us have worked here for 20 years and we don’t get pay rises. It takes the Government to force them to pay 50p more with the new minimum wage. If you work at the till at Lidl you get paid £9.35 an hour! So why are the people – who put the food on the shelves – getting such low pay? They can afford it. We deserve more!
We need to make our voices heard. Otherwise, a deal will be reached without us having our say. GMB organised a protest about this outside the Tesco HQ on June 17th – but workers in Park Royal will not go all the way to Welwyn Garden City on the outskirts of London. Why not hold a protest more locally so that Bakkavor workers can get involved? This action was not even advertised on the GMB noticeboards at work! Why not?! Lots of us permanents are in the GMB union but we are not part of the decisions or deals they make with the management.
Let’s get together and discuss what WE want! For example:
No banked hours. Higher wages!
If you want to cut our hours to 38, fine. We would gladly work less. But we want the same, no MORE money! The London Living Wage is £9.40 an hour!
Good redundancy packages
Rumours are that someone working here 20 years will get £10,000. This is peanuts. When Cadbury’s chocolate factory workers in Birmingham took voluntary redundancy last year, their average payouts were £100,000 each!
There are lots of other Bakkavor factories around here. The changes will also affect workers at the Premier Park site – we should try and contact them. We can also use this forum to (anonymously) share experiences: http://tinyurl.com/jj64mrs
STRIKE AT READY MEAL FACTORY
Two ready-meal factories in the 2Sisters Food Group went on strike recently. 400 out of 900 workers at Pennine Foods in Sheffield – which makes ready meals for M&S – went on strike in May and over half of 800 food workers at RF Brookes in Newport went on a 2-day strike in June. Workers are members of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union. They are fighting against changes in terms and conditions of a new contract workers are being asked to sign which would mean removing extra pay and lieu days for working weekends and a reduced overtime rate. Under 25s would see their pay stuck at £6.70.
Workers feel management are ‘scaring people into signing’ the new contracts. Their situation is similar to ours at Bakkavor, why don’t we get in touch with each other? We can try and do this ourselves if our union doesn’t…
Job: Picking in chill (cold!), freezer (even colder!), ambient (driving a LLOP), and produce (heavy banana boxes!) Workers: Mix of agency staff (majority of the pickers), permanents and drivers. Around 400 in total.
Pay: Agency staff get £7.20 p/h, £8 after 6pm. Permanents get over £9
You’d imagine that hell is hot, but after you’ve worked in the chill you start thinking hell must be a cold place. Not much has changed in the Sainsbury’s/ Wincanton’s warehouse since the last report in WorkersWildWest issue 2, and nothing much has changed for the better, that’s for sure. Although they did put the wage up by 30 pence a short time after our slow-down strike last year, this has been cancelled out after the minimum wage increase in April. Templine workers are back to the minimum wage. Prices and rents are going up – the small increase is swallowed up quickly. But Wincanton still manages to pay its core staff an amount close to the ‘London Living Wage’ and in Northampton permanent Wincanton workers get more than £10 an hour, even though rents and prices are definitely cheaper there than in west London. And if shelf stackers in Lidl can get 9.35 p/h then every temp working in a Sainsbury’s warehouse deserves at least that much, if not more!
We could complain about a lot of things, including the low pay and cold working conditions. But what bothers people the most is the boot-camp management style. The managers treat workers like trash, especially the agency workers. They cancel your shift one day and call you in during your day off the next. They often don’t give enough hours of rest between shifts, e.g. when you work until 8pm and then they ask you to come in for the morning shift at 6am. We should have 11 hours rest between shifts so what they are doing is ILLEGAL!
Even though you are, in practice, a zero-hours agency worker, they don’t let you take vacation when it’s busy or you don’t give them enough notice. They demand you stay and work overtime until the job is finished, but when we finish early they send us home without paying us the full eight hours. On top of that when we are finished and they no longer need us they tell us to log out of our scanner watch (meaning you no longer get paid), but then we still have to wait around to give our scanners back to the managers in order to clock out. That means we don’t get paid for the three, five, ten or even fifteen minutes after every shift while we wait to clock out. Over time, that adds up. We should be paid for every minute of work and because we cannot leave the site until we have clocked out, this qualifies as work time. So we should be paid. We are not, and this is also ILLEGAL!
Sports Direct was recently in all the papers about something similar. Their 3000 agency staff had to go through a rigorous security check after each shift but because this took up to half an hour, which workers weren’t paid for, they were effectively losing money and getting paid LESS than the minimum wage. The company was then forced to announce a (small) pay increase.
More stick than carrot
In April Wincanton recruited for half a dozen permanent positions in the warehouse. Agency temps who applied had some motivation to work harder. But for all the temps who did not get the job, there is no more reason to get high targets and most people are not going to break their backs to be the “temp of the month” for a minimum wage. So now, managers have to rely more on threats and disciplinary procedures to keep us working hard. They are giving out warnings for anything they can come up with, be it under-performance, spending one extra minute on your break, “excessive” sickness (let’s not forget we are working in temperatures that range from -24 degrees Celsius in the freezer, 2 to 5 degrees in chill and produce and room temperature in ambient and we are often exposed to sudden temperature changes when we move from one department to another, which this can have a serious effect on our health!)
Sooner or later people get fed up and because there are plenty of other crappy minimum wage jobs around here (where you don’t have to work in such horribly cold temperatures) people leave. But the next job is usually no paradise either and there are normally similar problems to face… If we are going to leave anyway, why not try and do something together to try and improve things? If you think it never works, check out the cleaners at Middlesex University, close to here, who have struggled to win the London Living Wage of £9.40! If they can do it, why can’t we?
Wincanton is nasty, but not unbeatable
Not long ago Wincanton had to pay £20,000 to a worker they unlawfully fired after she had a work accident in the Sainsbury’s warehouse in Northampton. The injury she suffered during work 4 years ago was the result of management disregarding health and safety measures. After the accident she had health problems and could not do her original job, but instead of finding her easier work to do, Wincanton hired private detective companies to spy on her to prove she was not disabled and finally fired her in 2014. This shows how low employers like Wincanton will stoop to avoid any responsibility towards their workers. It is no surprise that there are almost no Wincanton core staff picking in Greenford’s produce department. Why? Because stuff in produce is too heavy and some products are impossible to properly manually handle, so Wincanton gives this work to expendable agency workers who they can fire more easily.
Sainsbury’s is in a price war with all the other supermarket chains. Managers give us pep talks about how “we” are working for Sainsbury’s and we need to keep the costs low if we want to beat “our” competition, warning us that “our” jobs are at risk if Sainsbury’s doesn’t come out as a winner. But what does lowering the costs mean for us? Well, it means more pressure to achieve higher pick rates, to work faster, to do MORE for LESS money. And why should we care if Sainsbury’s loses the war? The winner will also need warehouse workers through temp agencies, so why should we have any special loyalty to Sainsbury’s? (And across the road Wincanton organises the distribution for Waitrose, their supposed competitor!)
So why are we still behaving like a bunch of scaredy cats? What we should be doing is trying to figure out how work LESS for MORE money. If we want to make our lives a little easier we’ll have to stand up for ourselves together with our colleagues and workers in other warehouses and shops, but we’ll need to start talking to each other first. Only when we’ve built trust amongst ourselves can we face management and get more pay and better conditions.
Job: Sorting post and parcels
Workers: Royal Mail directly hires the vast majority of the Christmas sorters but there are also some existing Angard staff working too.
Shifts: 6am-2pm, 2pm-10pm, 10pm-6am
Pay: It was £7 p/h during Christmas 2016. New Angard staff got £6.70 which was the minimum wage at the time. Angard staff who had been working for longer than 12 weeks got the same as Royal Mail permanents (around £13 per hour). People on nightshift got paid around a pound more than dayshift people.
Breaks: 2 x 20-minute breaks – unpaid.
I was expecting a bit more from Royal Mail. Even though it has been privatised and sold off for much less than it is worth, even though posties aren’t making £600 a week anymore like they could in their heyday, I always had the impression that it still paid its’ workers reasonably well and getting a Christmas job there was worth trying for. Loads of people around here apply for jobs there at Christmas time – there must be a good reason why, I thought. Sorry to burst the bubble folks, but at £7 an hour as a direct Royal Mail employee in the Greenford mail centre and single rate for overtime, it’s similar to a lot of other warehouse jobs around here! This is especially bad because we know that a few years ago, Royal Mail were paying temporary Christmas staff £10/hour. What in the hell happened?!
Royal Mail start recruiting in September. I got a postcard from them through the letterbox advertising the jobs locally. You have to fill out a ridiculously detailed online application form, even if we worked there last year. Then we have to go to some office in Feltham to get processed like we’re some ready-meal going along an assembly line. Then we have to wait for 6 weeks or something to actually start the job.
As always, my co-workers made the job bearable, sometimes even fun! An interesting mix of people worked there as Christmas casuals, which seemed to reflect the changes in the UK economy and employment in recent years: e.g. quite a few British people who had fallen on hard times having been made redundant from other long-standing jobs like in construction or the public sector or retail chains that had gone bust. They were looking for other work but finding the job market tough – sorting post was definitely a step down, but maybe ‘Royal Mail’ still has a certain prestige to it that makes it seem better than other near minimum-waged jobs? There were some students; mothers juggling childcare; ex-posties and others who had come from other mail companies like whistl who had laid people off; people who saw this job as a stepping stone to getting something better; the Sri Lankan lady gang; older people with a lot of work experience and young people with a hardly any…
Parcel centre vs. Mail Centre?
A few hundred casuals were in the parcel centre and some were in the mail centre, the shifts were 6am-2pm and 2pm until 8pm and 10pm until 6am. You got a better deal in the mail centre, you worked more with the permanents so they were a bit more relaxed with the casuals in terms of breaks and getting off a bit early, plus nice cheap canteen and games room and comfy seats! At the parcel centre though, if we were one minute late back from our break we’d get barked at. We sat at folding tables on some ratty chairs, and we had 2 microwaves that never seemed to get the food hot, and some hot water! Thanks Royal Mail, no expense spared!
Overtime – Is it worth it?
I, as well as a lot of other newbies, thought we would be paid a good overtime rate. But it was no different to the single rate of £7 an hour. They did not tell you how much the overtime was until after we had started. The contract did not specify and on our induction when someone asked, they said, “Someone else should have told you that!” Er, well, they didn’t! Probably because they know how crap it is!
Basically, the only way to make real money being a Christmas casual is – like any other job – to work EVERY SINGLE BIT OF OVERTIME YOU POSSIBLY CAN! You end up like a zombie at the end but so what?! I never worked overtime because, why bust my ass for £7?
What was good and what was a pain?
Even though the job is hard on your feet (they will be very sore for the first week!) I did get very good at UK geography and postcodes so if any questions ever come up in the pub quiz, that prize money is mine!
The signing in and signing out procedure, however, was a joke. Over a hundred people having to wait in line and elbow each other to scribble your signature next to your name – on ONE sheet of paper. It was difficult for them to check whether people who had signed in actually stayed for the whole shift, you could just sign out at the same time as signing in, and there were too many people to keep tabs on all of us. A week or two in though, the managers started spreading stories that they had caught people doing this and sacked them on the spot – but I never found out who these people ever were…
Mostly the managers didn’t bother you while you were sorting so this was good. You can chat to your ‘bullring’ partner the whole time too. A few weeks in though, they came around a couple of times to time how fast you were sorting. (The rumour is that people who scored the highest were the ones who were then offered a place with Angard after Christmas.) The target was to sort 17 parcels a minute, which is actually pretty do-able (although some of the older workmates were quite a bit slower!) You could usually see when they were coming around to time you so you could speed up a bit then. But they have no way of monitoring you individually all the time so you can be fairly relaxed the rest of the time…
But when things were not so busy, be warned: they send you home early without paying you for the full shift. This happened 4 or 5 times. When some people complained about this, the next day, when work dried up, managers tried extra hard to find stuff for us to do and not send us home early. So it pays to complain together!
LOTS of people had problems with their pay. Back in 2011, Christmas casuals had been employed through Angard, Royal Mail’s temp agency. But it proved unable to handle the volume of employees and the workers didn’t get paid! So that is probably why Royal Mail took this back in-house for the busy Christmas period. But the pay problems have continued. Some workers were not paid for whole shifts that they worked. Finally, be prepared for a sudden departure! One day, as the shift was ending, with no warning we were told it was our last day and ‘Thanks for all your hard work but Goodbye!’
Being with Angard over Christmas on the higher rate means you can earn the really big bucks. (But you must have worked there for 12 weeks already). But once the Christmas rush ends they call you less: most workers said they get 1 or 2 shifts a week on average so you would still need another job.
What can we do next time round?
I can understand if the permanents couldn’t be bothered too much with the new Christmas temps – after all, we are only there for a few weeks and we are a reminder that management can undermine them by getting hundreds of people working for minimum wages. This is why we should get the same pay as permanents straight away. And we are only working for around 8 weeks so to make it worthwhile, we should be paid more! Also, casuals recruited to other mail centres nearby e.g. Feltham were paid more than us. But because we are only there for such a short time and it takes time to get to know each other, by the time we get our asses into gear, Christmas is over. Next year, how could we come together earlier on to demand more money..? Maybe people can use the Royal Mail christmas casual chat forum to discuss more?
TIPS FOR XMAS CASUALS
*ALWAYS SIGN IN AND OUT, even if managers say they will do it for you. Royal Mail stole a lot of peoples’ wages last christmas, saying they did not have ‘proof’ that they worked because the sign-in sheets weren’t signed. So people did not get paid for whole days that they worked. The sign-in sheet is the only way to prove you were there.
*They were always messing up pay so KEEP A RECORD of exactly when and for how long you worked so you don’t get diddled!
*Instead of working a whole extra day OVERTIME – where you will get your break time deducted – work a couple of hours overtime each day. That way, at the end of the week you have made a full 8 hours pay extra instead of 7 hours and 20 minutes!
The rich millionaires who run our government are killing our health service.
We’ve had a free Health Service in Britain for so long people take it for granted and think it can’t be taken away. But it is, one step at a time.
Many years ago you had to pay money for a doctor. If you couldn’t pay you got sicker, your illness got worse or your child wasn’t treated. People were desperate – they borrowed money to pay.
Then in 1948 the NHS was set up. Why? Because people put pressure on the government, demanding better work and living conditions. Soldiers came home from fighting a war and they expected improvements. Working class people across Britain insisted on free health and education otherwise there would have been trouble. Today it’s our turn – if WE don’t make trouble, we’re going to lose the NHS bit by bit.
Hospital departments are closing steadily. Here in North West London the Accident and Emergency departments have closed at Hammersmith Hospital and Central Middlesex Hospital. The Maternity Department has closed at Ealing Hospital and they are closing the children’s ward, so children can’t go to Ealing A&E. And they plan to close more – including 500 much needed hospital beds.
At the same time private companies are being allowed to take over health services. These vultures are being allowed to choose which parts of the Health Service they can make money from. These companies and the Government are finding ways to exploit health workers. It’s so bad even the doctors had to go on strike.
Here in west-London people are fighting back – we have held many demonstrations and protests. We have given out hundreds of thousands of leaflets on the streets and we are using social media and other ways to tell the truth. What we need now is big angry movement of people to defend the Health Service and the hospitals that we pay for and which are there for us.
Please check out Ealing Save Our NHS on Facebook or www. ealingsaveournhs.org.uk
In the last issue we wrote about the grim situation after the November terror attacks in Paris. This looked set to stir up a storm of patriotic flag waving and racism, which have always been the favourite way governments have tried to distract people from other problems – corruption in government and business, unfair laws, cruddy jobs or no jobs at all. We are told not to worry about these problems, that we must accept them and fight whoever the government says is the enemy.
So not surprisingly, the French government wasted no time in scapegoating all French Muslims for the acts of a handful of terrorists. The French government declared a state of emergency, which, at the time of writing, is still in effect, more than 6 months after the attack. This allows French authorities to carry out police raids and put people under house arrest without prior authorisation from a judge. These powers have mostly been used against French Muslims. Over 3000 searches and between 350 and 400 house arrests had been approved, often with shaky or no evidence.
House arrest has ruined many people’s lives, stopping them from working, screwing with their social lives and turning their neighbours against them. The raids have at times been brutal, in some cases the police have broken down doors despite being offered the keys. Innocent people have been hurt. A child was injured by flying wood splinters when the police raided the wrong address. An old man who was not a suspect had his teeth broken. Despite claims that these raids target terrorists, when police find no evidence of terrorism in these raids, they try to pin any petty crime charge they can make stick to the unlucky occupants. The result of this heavy-handed response that has harmed the lives of thousands of people? Only five terrorism related investigations…
These tactics have not found many terrorists, but they may have created some. Islamic terrorism feeds on fear, mistrust and hatred, and having armed men break down the doors of innocent people and rough them up is a great way to spread them. Groups like ISIS want Muslims in the west to feel isolated from, and wronged by, the countries they live in, so that they can raise funds and recruit fighters from those places. They launch terror attacks knowing that it will provoke a government crackdown, which will only push Muslims into their hands. Western governments and Islamic terror groups feed off each other’s violence to gain more power for themselves, and we all pay the price.
Won’t Get Fooled Again
However, many working class people in France have not allowed themselves to be distracted from their other problems by patriotic chest beating, or allowed mistrust to stop them from coming together to fight against those problems. On 31st March France was swept by a huge wave of protests over the “El Khomri” law, a change in French labour law that would make it easier for employers to fire workers and increase the legal hours that can be worked in a week. A general strike was declared and over a million workers and students took the street in protest in over 250 cities.
Out of this mass protest, a group of protesters decided to occupy the Place de la République in Paris, setting up camp in the square. The British media has mostly ignored this, perhaps out of fear that it might give us ideas, but it has continued to grow despite police repression. Occupations and protests inspired by this act have since spread throughout France and into neighbouring countries. This movement, dubbed Nuit Debout, is now protesting against the Establishment in general, including austerity, the use of emergency powers, and the treatment of migrants. Hundreds, often thousands of people have spent the night together in the squares, eating together, discussing, planning actions against the government attack on workers. People decide together instead of following leaders. The movement is also working against the fear and mistrust that divides us, trying to create spaces where people can talk to each other about politics and work together as equals.
Nuit Debout has provided a better model for preventing terrorism than ‘our own’ governments. The government has often stirred up division as a way of keeping power, and uses this power to prop up a deeply unfair society. It promises to keep us safe from terrorism by the use of violent and indiscriminate methods, spreading fear and mistrust – in a word, terror. Only by bridging the differences between us on our own terms, and creating a society in which no one feels left out, can we stamp out the root causes of terrorism.
A Brief Timeline
9th March – Half a million people protest against the new labour law. From this point on, there are spontaneous occupations, blockades, and clashes with police, mostly by students. Students blockade nearly a quarter of the 190 colleges in Paris.
31st March – Over 1 million people come out all over France to protest new labour laws. Unions go on strike. Fights break out with police. Buildings and public spaces are occupied, including the Place de la République that will become the centre of Nuit Debout.
28th April – Wave of protests, with 100,000-200,000 throughout France. More occupations. 10th May – – Under threat of a revolt by MP’s, French government uses Article 49.3 of the constitution to force through labour laws without a vote in parliament. Thousands take to the streets. More police clashes.
13th May – Railway unions go on indefinite strike. Square occupants gather in front of the Renault factory and discuss the aim of the movement with Renault workers.
18th May – A procession of students and unions invaded a Paris train station and blocked the tracks. 130 workers at another train station had a general meeting and unanimously agreed to extend the strike. All 8 oil refineries are on strike. There is massive police repression.
2nd June – French air traffic controllers go on strike so many flights are cancelled.
Strangers hardly ever speak to strangers and because in London everyone is a stranger, nobody ever speaks to no one! People stare into their mobile phones on the tube or sweat in awkward silences in the waiting room of their GP or at the job centre. But if you know where to look, there are places where people talk freely – little islands of random chats between people who often haven’t seen each other before…
One such island is the sauna in Gurnell Leisure Centre in Greenford. Me and my friends like to go there after a week in the chill, going nuts on the assembly line, or after pushing brooms in the drizzly Perivale rain. Most people there are working people from around Greenford, Ealing and around the world. People talk about life, about politics. Older geezers tell young guys from Poland how they arrived from Jamaica in the 1970s to work in industrial laundries in Acton or for Royal Mail. Gujarati ladies talk about the fact that the picking at the H&M warehouse in Wembley aggravates their arthritis and exchange experiences about natural remedies from Kenya. We discussed the situation of mining workers near the frontline in Ukraine with a Ukrainian forklift driver and his Bulgarian friend. We discussed the NHS being sold off and how much worse the situation is in America where one guy had lived for a while, that if you get sick there, you end up bankrupt.
We might disagree about putting too much mint-oil on the stove (not allowed!), but most of us agree on some basics: the politicians cannot be trusted, the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and something has to been done. There are not many of these places for these types of conversations. Maybe you have to be in a semidark room for it, with a dozen of so half-naked sweating people? In any case, we have to create more of them and defend them: Ealing council has agreed to sell the leisure centre land to a real estate developer. The leisure centre will be closed and demolished in 2017. The real estate developer has promised to build a new one (together with unaffordable flats), but who knows if that will actually happen. We should defend the leisure centre as long as it exists!
GURNELL – REDEVELOPMENT UPDATE
Some of you may have heard that the council is planning a massive redevelopment of Gurnell Leisure Centre. They want to hand over public land to a private property developer so that they can build market-rate flats to finance a state-of-the-art leisure centre. A new leisure centre sounds great. The bad news for us is that Gurnell will be knocked down in April 2017, and not re-open (supposedly) until January 2019. Councillors say that the roof will cost £10 million to repair in the short-term, so it makes financial sense to knock it all down and start again. However we have the following concerns:
1. The council has already sunk £1.34m into this Gurnell redevelopment project before even asking us what we think about it. We need to get involved NOW to get assurances that this development will benefit US, and not just greedy property developers.
2. Unaffordable housing will be built on the leisure centre site in return for a contribution towards the cost of improving the swimming pool. But shouldn’t this be really ‘affordable’/ social housing instead?
3. While a state-of-the-art leisure centre sounds brilliant, we would like concrete assurances that it will remain accessible to local people. Admission prices should remain the same.
4. Detailed financial information has not been made publicly available. This is OUR land and OUR leisure centre. We should have open access to all information about this process. Why can’t we?
5. What guarantees are there that the council retains control over the quality of rented accommodation, treatment by landlords and rent levels? And if the leisure centre itself is run by a separate company, but the tax payer has paid £12 million for it, what role do we have in how it is run?
Let’s go and voice our concerns and press for some assurances at the next public meeting:
Date: 14th July
Where? Hathaway Primary School, Hathaway Gardens. Ealing. W13 0DH.
Focus on: Housing
News about working class people struggling against bad conditions and government cuts often don’t make it into the big media and even more rarely arrive here on the fringes of the city. Below some news against the ‘nothing can be done’ attitude!
Over 40,000 parents signed a petition calling for a boycott of the national SATs tests and many kept their kids at home on May 3rd in protest against over-testing. Kids are branded as failures before they are 7 years old. Parents and teachers came together against the continuing attacks on our education system.
Hospital cleaners strike
On March 21st nearly 200 cleaners and domestic staff employed by Aramark at four mental health facilities in South London went on strike. They were demanding £10 an hour, sick pay and payment for working unsociable hours.
On April 16th Feminist Fightback blockaded St Johns Church in Stratford, preventing an anti- abortion group from harrasing women at the local clinic. To watch a short video of the action go to: www.feministfightback.org.uk
On the 8th April the residents of a squat in Grenville Street, Bloomsbury, along with a hundred supporters, managed to stop an attempted eviction. Bailiffs finally gave up after 5 hours trying to get through barricades erected by the protesters and supporters.
eCourier has agreed to a 28% pay rise, an increase in the weekly bonus cap, free uniforms, and 10p per mile compensation for costs for its cycle couriers after a campaign by a grassroots union called the Industrial Workers Of Great Britain (IWGB). Just the threat of a protest caused management to negotiate a better deal for workers. Workers are fighting back and winning!
BURSARIES FOR NURSES
On June 4th 2016 several thousand nurses, midwives and supporters demonstrated against the cuts of bursaries. The government wants students nurses to get into £24,000 worth of student debt when training.