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Following a six-month period on furlough, I took voluntary redundancy from the factory I'd worked at since leaving school. At 61, I felt I'd like to try something different, and the work in the factory was getting heavier and the twelve-hour night shifts harder.
My job search demonstrated immediately that 'unskilled' workers' are victims of parasitic agencies that work for employers. Work can almost only be found online. You may see an ad reading 'Royal Mail jobs'. But by clicking on the link you go directly to an agency. A dozen jobs may be on view, almost all minimum wage and none of them with Royal Mail.
I use Royal Mail as an example, but the ad could be for Tesco or Sainsbury's, or indeed any major employer. But on further investigation none of those companies are hiring. Just minimum wage, factory, warehouse work, and the like.
I eventually took one such job for a major British company, obviously working for an agency and on minimum wage. When I arrived, there were about 15 new workers, five for each of the three different shifts. All of the other workers were young people (under 30). All seemed intelligent and keen to work hard. The first thing we did was split into three groups. Our group of five watched a ten-minute video of manual handling, then signed about 20 booklets on various aspects, to say we understood the company's safety rules.
When I questioned why we were signing before our training, rather than at the end of it, the trainer replied: "That's how we always do it." We were told we would be treated exactly the same as workers who were employed by the company - except if we went home ill, we wouldn't get paid. I asked if we were on the same pay as company employees? No. There were other differences too, such as overtime.
One of the lads I spoke to had been working for Amazon, but had left because all the previous week he had received a phone call at 6pm telling him not to go to work the next day. One lad had been an engineer in the army, but found this was the only type of work he could get, although he did say he hoped to go back in the army.
These workers are in temporary, unstable work, with little hope of full-time work in the future.
We must fight to make these practices illegal. We need real work, with real contracts, and trade union representation. Dignity at work should be a right not a privilege. If capitalism can't provide that then we must fight for a society that can - socialism.
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Post Office (82)
Royal Mail (195)
Article dated 20 January 2021
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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