Monday, 3 February 2014

Sweatshops in the UK.

I held lots of jobs as a  underaged teen, most paid below minimum wage, an amount varying from as little as £2 an hour to £4 an hour when minimum wage was £5+ an hour, in some cases those companies still owe me outstanding wages on top of how little they paid me.

When I was 17 I had a job in what was basically the typing pool of a large company, because I was deemed a "trainee" I got an actual salary unlike anyone who'd been 'trained', I was being paid £80 a week for a 40 hour week. So yes, I was literally being paid £2 an hour, after taxes and NI, I was taking home around £70 a week. Once you were trained? You were paid piecemeal for typing, usually just pennies for each task, I don't think anyone there managed to do enough to make minimum wage.

 And this wasn't a piddly little company. In their own words? "Our client base reflects our standing within the industry, some of our clients have been with us for 15 years and more, and include national and local government, insurance and financial institutions, motor and aircraft manufacturers, airline operators, major food retailers, charities, universities and many, many more." That company knew nobody in it's typing pool could make ends meet and in fact they straight up told us to just work harder when the government upped the minimum wage. In fact someone in it had sideline in getting workers to take Christmas cracker making kits home (which they knew about). If you purchased a Christmas Cracker in the UK in the 90's? It was probably assembled someone who was grossly underpaid by that company and others like it. Assembling the crackers used to net you a whooping 24p for a box since you were only paid for the crackers at 2p a cracker and nothing for the box you put together to put them in, sometimes we'd get luxury crackers to do for high end stores, then we might get a whole 5p a cracker or 60p a box. No matter how hard you worked, it was physically impossible to make minimum wage assembling crackers.

Most of the people I worked with would do a ten hour shift at work and they'd usually still have to spend their evenings with the whole family including kids making up those crackers.

Companies like that can get away with paying so little because they know people who are desperate to work but who are consistently turned down by other companies will accept poverty wages. This notion that British people are unwilling to work hard is complete bullshit. The fact is companies exploit people's willingness to work and lack of options to pay them sweatshop wages.

This is why a living wage matters, and why we should insist that salaried positions be the default.

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