Sunday, May 31, 2015

Office Worker - Zero Hours Stories #3

This was 2000, in the days before London’s employment agencies decided to deck out their premises with garish colours and wall-length photos of happy workers like a cross between Foxtons and the first class lounge at Heathrow Terminal Five, and even though this was a well-known international employment agency the waiting area was shabby, like a national health dentist’s office, with potted plants and stacked plastic in-trays.

I was waiting in the Strand branch, sitting uneasily on a plastic chair as people rushed busily past me. People still had smoking areas in offices then. It was 8 am on a Monday morning and the agency was busy supplying emergency cover for receptions and telephones across London. They forgot about me pretty soon.

I’d been at home since I left the hotel job. I’d been writing (the novel is still on a floppy disk somewhere, where it can stay forever as far as I’m concerned) and every day around 11am when the Evening Standard was delivered to the Woodgrange News around the corner, I would get 30p off my dad and go and buy it to look at the ads section, circling everything that seemed likely with a highlighter. I’d applied for every job I was half-qualified to do but got nothing other than interviews in a few seedy warehouses with even seedier bosses. ‘We’re really looking for someone more experienced,’ was better than ‘What do you want a job for with grades like that?’

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Zero Hours Stories: Introduction

In my working life of 16 years I've done 36 jobs. (Lots of overlapping/ working three jobs at the same time so not as bad as it seems).
Of these jobs, 6 were abroad. For all of those I had a contract.
Of the remaining 30, two were freelance.
Of the remaining 28, 21 were Zero Hours. So 3 out of 4 jobs I've done in London at every level, from working at Greggs as a teenager to teaching in an exclusive private school, offered absolutely no guarantee of hours or pay and no security whatsoever.

'Hungry' - Zero Hours Stories #2

I left the hotel when I became unable to go to sleep at night. I would lie in bed watching the red numerals of the alarm clock dripping slowly towards another day and finally drift off to dreams of bathroom sinks and hospital corners when I knew it was already too late to get a full night.

Another morning getting up at 3.45, making coffee and then slipping unshowered (no point in washing if you’re doing a cleaning job) onto my bike and slogging the 8 kilometres through the summer dawn to the City. Many colleagues got in early to avail themselves of the free breakfast in the staff canteen but I rarely made it. It was as much as I could do to get in to the break room, change out of my shorts into my green polyester pinny, the pockets still full of miniature toiletries, cleaning cloths and used tissues from the day before. My nose ran all that summer, and I had headaches all day at work.

Dressed and ready to go, I would join the 5am queue for printed sheets of our days’ rooms. If you hadn’t worked fast enough the day before or a manager had asked you to do a room over, you would get fewer rooms to clean that day. The printer was old and beige and ran faint green print over that old kind of paper with spool holes on each side. Towards the end I often came in last in the morning queue, with 10 or 12 rooms to do while other women had 25 or 30. Ten rooms was £20 before tax. A good-looking Italian couple, only five or six years older than me, who were living in London for the summer and had the rather more prestigious job of cleaning the corridors and the lobby, told me it was because I wasn’t ‘hungry’.