Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/816/18842
A day in the life of a supermarket worker
I work for Tesco in a busy city centre shop. Sales figures in my shop are high, but morale is low. Like all retail workers, we are underpaid (basic rate £7.28 an hour and an 'offer' of a pay freeze this year), overworked and undervalued.
Tesco does not currently use zero-hour contracts, but that does not stop crafty managers from hiring lots of young staff members on four or five hour contracts.
When the payroll budget is high, managers will bully, coerce and pressure staff into working overtime shifts everyday. I have personally been phoned up at 5am by managers who have tried to bully me into working on my days off.
When the payroll budget runs out, staff are once again back to working four or five hours a week. How are the young people who work for Tesco meant to build a life in such insecure and unpredictable conditions? How are the older workers meant to maintain mortgages or support their families?
When the shop first opened in 2012, my manager told me that there were over 800 applications for 20 vacancies. We are all made to feel so grateful for these jobs so that we don't complain or cause trouble. Even the Usdaw union reps in many stores are afraid to stand up to management.
People who can't manage the workload often leave and are hardly ever replaced, which has left our store extremely understaffed. This is dangerous, given that in the UK a shop worker is verbally or physically abused every minute of the working day.
In my shop, we have been told by senior management that we cannot afford to employ another guard to work mornings despite consistently have to deal with drunk and abusive customers entering the shop when we open first thing. It is clear to see that Tesco cares more about profit than the safety of the hardworking staff.
I am an Usdaw shop steward for my shop, and I know that the union has a 'partnership agreement' with Tesco. What this means in reality is that Usdaw get to come into stores to recruit members, while putting up with or turning a blind eye to decisions that Tesco makes that will negatively affect staff.
Usdaw is one of the largest trade unions in Britain, and it is strongest in Tesco. We need a fighting union that will do more to hold Tesco to account and to force them to pay decent wages and make sure staffing levels are appropriate. We need to campaign to end underemployment and to stop management from getting away with bullying staff.
We retail workers are many, but we don't yet realise the power that we have.
A young McDonald's worker on a zero-hour contract received this email from his boss:
"Sickness, no shows, absent days are becoming far too much of a store culture for my liking. I have had enough of it and it must end now. Anyone averaging more than 1 day a month absent or sick will be going down to one 4hr shift a week."
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In The Socialist 25 June 2014:
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