Michael Given is a support worker for homeless people in Glasgow.
Tell us a little bit about the work you do.
I am a homeless support worker based in the community in the East End of Glasgow.
I support people classed as “Homeless” to move on from Temporary Furnished Flats (TFF'S) to Permanent Tenancies. The work involves a package of support — assistance with obtaining Community Care Grants, accessing second hand furniture, state benefit checks and advice, referring and accompanying people to addiction services etc.
Do you and your workmates get the pay and conditions you deserve?
Absolutely not! The Council tenders the work out to a private company called Aspire.
Support workers have been on £13,750 per annum for the last 5 years. Pay is indefinitely frozen.
The starting salary is £13,000 for the first nine months, but often the pay increment of £750 is delayed months, sometimes years. Some workers are now borrowing money for food from relatives. Most have to do second jobs, or have other sources of income such as tax credits.
Last winter, workers across the company in Resettlement, Emergency and Community services were made redundant following a cut by the Labour-controlled Council in funding. Letters we received on Christmas Eve emphasised that no managers would have to re-apply for their own jobs — only workers.
What are the attitudes to the pensions dispute in your workplace?
We don't have a pension and could not afford one on the wages we are on in any case.
Some have been sucked in by the divide and rule propaganda of the Coalition and the press. However I also think people are hopeful that it will lead to change for the better for all workers. The strike ought to be seen as an opportunity to achieve our own goals and turn the balance of power around in the workplace.
What do people talk about in your workplace? How easy is it to “talk politics on the job”?
Being kicked out of our old office into the Scottish weather, false promises about sickness bonuses, non-payment of increments, mobile phones that are blocked and so are virtually useless, ongoing casualisation, constant negative changes, poverty pay and getting out. Recent years have looked like a sequel to “The Great Escape”. It has got harder to talk about politics or workplace grievances recently as a result of more pressure to come back to a recently re-designed open plan office. Workers can't speak in confidence there and this is a problem we really need to address.
What are your bosses like? Is there are problem with bullying and harassment by bosses?
The senior bosses are based in the old head office and remote. They are charming, polite and utterly ruthless. Most managers at service or team-leader level are pushed out the door every couple of years. No ideas from workers are ever accepted. High turnover of both workers and middle-management suits the bosses as it means they retain control.
Is there a union in your workplace, and does it do a good job?
No . But some workers have joined Unison and there have been some meetings with Unison reps in attendance. The redundancies last Christmas and a period of relative calm afterwards saw momentum lost. But union recognition is the only way forward in circumstances where there are fewer and fewer jobs and greater attacks on every workplace.
If you could change one thing about your work, what would it be?
That an important service that does good work begins to be run in-house by the Council and a democratically-elected Management Committee operates the day to day running of it.