Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Got it maid - Zero Hours Stories #1

My first job was as a 'room attendant' (cleaner) in a large London hotel firm. Rooms cost (in 2000) upwards of £300 per night. I was the only British born person I ever met working there. The rates were £2 per room and I used to clean around 14 rooms per day, although some amazing women did up to 30. I guess nine out of ten colleagues were women. I would start work at 5 am and finish when I finished, usually in the early afternoon. I just came across this blog (thanks Leo Doran) and it took me back- every detail is exactly the same- the triangular point on the end of the toilet roll, the toxic blue powders which caught in your throat, the way we were constantly told to wear gloves but as everyone including the supervisors knew, gloves would slow us down to the point where we would lose money we couldn't afford to lose.
One day, there was a fire alarm in the hotel. We had not been trained or warned in any way for this, but I followed the women around me, pushed my heavy linen trolley against a wall, walked out down the grey service stairs to the smoking area to be counted. The fire brigade (it was a test) checked the corridors and found that the woman working next to me had left her trolley blocking the passage. We were both called into the office for an explanation. She was in her forties, maybe Lithuanian.
Two fire officers asked us what had happened. They were surprised by my shrill middle class tones. The woman tried to speak and began to cry. A supervisor called another member of staff to empty her locker (our lockers didn't lock). There was a sense that the woman had embarrassed the company. She was being asked to leave the building immediately. I said 'It was an accident, she didn't know.' The supervisor (who was not English) said 'You want to work in England, you got to speak English. No English, no job.' The woman's remaining rooms were divided among her neighbours to be cleaned, so I finished very late that day.

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