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A Worker's Story #1
aotearoa / pacific islands | workplace struggles | interview Saturday January 11, 2020 12:19 by AWSM - Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM)
Here Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) offers the first of what we hope will become an ongoing series of interviews with workers from various sectors who are having their well being and livelihoods damaged. We begin with an educator in Southland, South Island. Due to the attitude and actions of his employers, he has asked to remain anonymous.
AWSM: Thanks for agreeing to this interview would you like to tell us something about your work.
WORKER: Hi, I’m an educator with adults, young and the not so young, looking to upskill their literacy
AWSM: Do you enjoy your work?
WORKER: Immensely. It’s making a useful contribution to society, and while I am aware really the main demands of my job are to make people fit for capitalism in terms of being upskilled to join the employment force, l like to embed a lot of critical thinking skills around for example, checking sources of news articles and what bias may come from them, interpreting the difference between facts and opinions, and seeing through advertising. In this way I like to think at least I’m giving people tools to deal with the capitalist media system, or at least attempting to.
AWSM: Is there anything you don’t like?
WORKER: Well yes, my terms and conditions leave a lot to be desired. For example, I was on a contract for a maximum of 20 hours, but if I had no students I had no pay. So in reality because of the vagaries of the people we teach, who often have chaotic lifestyles, my hours could vary anywhere between 10 and 20 in a given week, so obviously my pay reflected this. Also we have to take leave around the school holidays. So effectively, because you can’t earn enough annual leave to cover this amount you are without pay for around 8-10 weeks a year.
AWSM: Is the pay good?
WORKER: On paper it looks ok. I won’t go into the exact figures, but it is $30+ an hour and seems generous. The reality however is very different. I get paid what is known as an inclusive rate. This means I get deductions for my holiday pay, which I know isn’t that unusual, but also I have to pay the kiwisaver employer contributions out of my pay, which was a new thing for me and totally surprised me as I didn’t even know that was a thing. Also we don’t get paid for any time we spend preparing lessons or marking, and it is expected we are in the building at least half an hour before any class that we are teaching starts. Another thing that winds me up is once a month we are expected to attend staff meetings, without pay, that can drag on for over 2 hours, thanks to two managers who will talk and talk interminably about nothing much – of course they will be getting paid as they enjoy the luxury of 40 hour contracts.
AWSM: In the previous question you said you were on a contract with a maximum of 20 hours, did this change?
WORKER: Yes, at the end of Term 2 last year I was asked if I would like to take on a new course that involved 40 hours per week teaching. I accepted and they put me on a salaried contract which actually saw my pay drop by about $8 per hour. The course actually involved a lot more than 40 hours a week with gathering resources and marking, and of course, such is the lot of a salaried worker, you don’t get overtime – but of course if you ever leave early then it is seen as theft of time. I got reprimanded once for leaving an hour early for a doctors appointment – this having worked for the previous 4 saturdays above my 40 hours to catch up with my workload.
AWSM: Things like that must drive you mad?
WORKER: Honestly, I have been in the workforce for a long time now and I have no expectation of being treated differently. I really don’t think I have ever had a boss who I had any respect for and would treat you decently.
AWSM: Are you still on that contract now?
WORKER: No. As soon as my course finished they put me back on a 20 hour/Zero hour contract. Presumably so they don’t have to pay me fully for public holidays. When I return at the beginning of next term I will be offered the 40 hour contract again.
AWSM: How do your colleagues view their working conditions?
WORKER: No-one really talks about it. I try and get others involved in conversations but they really don’t want to rock the boat at all.
AWSM: Have you ever suggested organising your workplace?
WORKER: Ha, yes, and the response was mostly bemused looks. The place I work is one branch of a nationwide organisation and I tried reaching out to others around the country. The company has an intranet with a messaging service as part of it. I tried to start a topic on there to see how other tutors felt about the working conditions. It literally lasted less than half an hour and was taken down by management at the head office, followed by a phone call from the CEO to my line manager to tell her to have a word with me not to do this again. A few of us did start up a Facebook group to chat away from the eyes of management, and they were eager to try and organise, but they all found better jobs and left before we got very far.
AWSM: Thanks for chatting to us, is there anything else you would like to add?
WORKER: Not really, I think you can see what I have to put up with, but the saddest part is that it’s not unusual to have such poor conditions. A lot of the people I teach get seasonal work in the local pack houses. They are mostly on zero hour contracts, and can be called in or cancelled with very little notice. At busy periods they can work 14 hours a day for over 7 days at a time. I think that a whole generation has grown up since the economy was given a dose of neo-liberalism, and they can’t really remember a time anymore when proper contracts with decent conditions were considered the norm. The working conditions they have now are just seen as the way things are. Hopefully, one day things will change as people get pushed ever harder for less return.