My life at work: overheated, overworked, underpaid

Submitted by Matthew on 16 May, 2012 - 6:58

Sam Carrow is a catering worker in a hospital in north west England.


I work a minimum wage job for a chain coffee outlet in a big hospital. I’m employed on an agency contract, but there’s a mix of different employment types.

Some workers, who used to work in the hospital’s own canteen, are directly employed by the NHS and have better pay, terms, and conditions. That creates tension.

Agency staff are supposed to work a minimum of 20 hours a week but our contracts are “fully flexible”, which means we aren’t guaranteed to work that minimum.

The atmosphere in the workplace is okay, and people tend to get on with each other. That friendliness can sometimes be a problem as issues are viewed as “personal problems” to be sorted out between mates rather than symptoms of wider problems in the workplace itself.

The conditions are quite hard as they involve being on your feet and moving around, often in proximity to very hot machinery, for your entire shift. We only get one, unpaid, break and the workplace is frequently understaffed which means we all have to go faster. The workplace is often overheated too, which makes conditions unpleasant.

People notice these problems and will grumble about them but there’s an attitude that that’s just the way things are. A lot of people put their heads down and get on with it.

As well as understaffing, the other thing people complain most about is finding the work boring and unfulfilling.

Some of the staff have worked elsewhere in the hospital and people do have a sense of being hospital workers rather than just coffee shop workers. I think that makes people make more of an effort than if we were working in an outlet on the high street.

I’ve joined Unison, but no-one else in the workplace is in a union.

The older workers and workers with families do see what they’re doing as a more long-term job, but younger ones see themselves as transient.

Small changes like giving us paid breaks or getting double time for working bank holidays would make a big difference. A big improvement would be to level up everyone’s pay rates so the agency workers got paid the same as the directly-employed staff. The agency staff are all aware that we’re on worse money.

I’ve talked to workers a few times about how hospitals outsourcing employment and services is part of NHS privatisation.

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