Editors note: Recently someone from ‘my world’ – a world where you’ve had a really bad day if the admin messed up your teaching – told me they are ashamed to live in the developed world. Not because there is poverty, inequality and unemployment but because there are also the working poor; people who work hard labour for their bread and there is no bacon in sight. Tonight Alex’s piece reads like Dickens because at the moment he is living a comparable level of deprivation. Please read this powerful piece; I can’t ask you to enjoy it but I hope it makes you think. And I feel ashamed; how about you?
This last week I have been a working man. I’d like to say that it feels good but for the most part it does not.
The warehouse job found through the employment agency, Avanta was never going to be the most enjoyable job in the world. Joy is not in it: it is a health and safety nightmare.
I advise anyone who finds themselves in a similar position to mine to not consider taking on this sort of job unless you are willing to deal with the worst possible conditions, and the worst possible people. I can truly say that although I now have my first pay cheque coming through tomorrow, the downsides massively outweigh the possession of one’s own hard fought wage, even if money is indeed the whole point to begin with.
At twelve hour overnight shifts the work is difficult enough on paper, but the reality of it is even more horrific. For me and several others travelling from the Manchester areas it is a case whereby the strenuous task itself of lifting countless hundreds of lamb legs (the product we have been assigned to sorting and packing) isn’t actually the worst of all the issues.
There are two major issues for me; one being the very fact that we spend six hours a day travelling, twelve at the workplace and the rest sleeping as much as we can and eating if we have time to do so at all.
The other horrifying fact of this particular job is the people, the line managers who are in charge of the team on the night. The managers or supervisors have set targets to reach that are barely approachable, and in turn all the blame is shoved into our faces with a display of poor man-management and attitudes. I can understand that we are there to work, but without any people skills everyone else is treated like slaves. It’s a disgrace.
There are two main examples in my mind of what I mean when witnessing bad people skills, although almost every breath and word spoken by the line managers is in question. Firstly, the less severe example of bullying occurred when a Polish colleague (many of them seem to be of Slavic dissent) asked for a second time when our break would be. The reaction of the line manager was quite shocking. He stood up right against the Polish chap and asked him in an aggressive tone “Have you got a problem?”.
The answer was clearly yes, since at that point we had been lunging around with three kilo lamb legs for the best part of five hours, but instead he had to back down and say no because otherwise he would quite simply lose his way of earning a living right there and then. But this is not the worst occurrence. The worst happened again right in front of my eyes when another colleague, a small and older lady in her fifties, asked more than once for first aid. Her back was very sore at this point in the shift and so she was enquiring about the use of some pain killers. This time, a different line manager said simply “you’ll be fine” and patted her on the shoulder.
Her reaction a couple of minutes later was dramatic, as would be expected. She slammed her hard-hat down on a table and screamed one or two obscenities that I shan’t repeat. As for the line manager’s reaction to this, well he was trying to appear nonchalant but flustered in the face. I could tell he didn’t know how to deal with any situation but instead of getting an earful from someone above him in rank no one muttered a word about it.
It’s all shocking to me, that we could be expected to work four or five days in a row with only around four hours sleep a day, and doing heavy workloads with little more than two half hour breaks over the whole night. What is of course most shocking and sickening to me is the fact that no one has been trained properly in managing people, and the distinct lack of care towards all workers means serious injury is likely to occur, and that’s no condition for anyone in this day and age.
I, myself have endured an injury to the left arm, which is both fortuitous in the sense that I’ve been allowed a few days off, as well as it being painful and preventing me from earning money. Luckily there is no fracture, and the throbbing and swelling is pretty much gone. It was a repetitive strain around the wrist and thumb, and whilst this kind of injury can occur in any warehouse, I can only refer to the harsh conditions and the horrible people that drive the production line if I’m to look to pass on any blame.
I am genuinely not exaggerating when I say that if I reported the injury (more so a succession of injuries to both arms) to someone in charge they would not care or look to help in any way. In fact, I would be to blame because I’d be somehow putting a downer on their chase to reach a certain target of sorting X amount of pallets.
This job is no doubt at the bottom of all piles, giving bad and ugly toothed and dim witted men and women the position of authority. What I started to do by the latter stages of the second shift is offer as much support to my colleagues as I could whilst working, trying to let people know if they have a sore back or a headache there is someone in the building who cares. But it’s not enough, just one man offering a few words of advice or sympathy, unless that man was in charge, yet I am not.
As a group we have not been offered any basic food, any genuine encouragement or good humour, and even drinking water seems to be either non-existent or in a secret location. I think you’ll agree that this is both a bad set up for anyone to put up with, and there are two older women, as well the fact that to be treated no better than a rabid dog raises some serious questions over rules and policies. It’s a human resources catastrophe, and considering I had a choice whether or not to take on this particular workload I’m inclined to wonder why I even thought for a single moment it would be feasible.
The good news, not that there really is any, is that the job ends on Sunday/Monday morning and after that I am guaranteed a similar job that is much closer by and operates around eight hour shifts, not twelve. It’s amazing what a human being is capable of when one can get a full rest and only have to travel around an hour to get to work instead of trekking around endlessly.
Over the shifts I’ve done this week I’ve had to leave the house by 3pm to get to the warehouse via several buses by 7pm, then finish at 7am and possibly get home just after 9am after being dropped off in the centre of Manchester by taxi, all the way from Cheshire. The taxi is paid for, but for some reason we can’t be picked up from our homes.
Other than that I don’t know what else to tell you all about it. I’m sure I’m not the first person to be lumbered with this sort of job, but in my head I’m starting to think that the whole thing is illegal if not just highly immoral and even though I’m looking to progress from the grassroots in my own life, I should probably be looking to protect my physical wellbeing first and foremost, and indeed the wellbeing of others.
All I’m looking to do is work but this feels like more of a punishment. Over the last couple of days I’ve been at breaking point due to tiredness, even after getting some good rest, but I’m too resilient to quit and like I say there is a more local job waiting for me in a matter of days. Yet, with jobs like this, and more so dealing with people like those managers and supervisors, it’s no wonder to me why it’s tempting to many to stay on benefits.
After what I’ve witnessed it doesn’t seem so ‘criminal’ to do so, but like I say I’m not going to quit, I’m just going to keep my head down. However, one more stark mistreatment of a fellow person and I will be the one to challenge whoever it is carrying out the mistreatment. It’s not possible to just stand around and witness someone’s basic human rights being trampled on. It is most certainly not what I signed up for.
Thanks for reading and remember that no one has the right to talk down to you or ignore your health in the workplace.