My life at work: the higher you go, the worse it gets

Submitted by Matthew on 19 November, 2009 - 1:38 Author: Alf Chatham

Alf Chatham is a porter at a major hotel in central London.

Tell us a bit about the work you do.

Portering work is very labour intensive and quite physical. There’s a certain amount of work that has to be done, so if you don’t complete it within your contracted hours then you have to work unpaid overtime.

There’s a workforce of about 100 people at my hotel, and the chain employs around 6,000 people nationally. I usually start at about 7 in the morning, and finish at around 5:30.

Do you and your workmates get the pay and conditions you deserve?

The conditions aren’t too bad, but it’s a very low paid industry. Everyone who works in hotels is lower paid than similar jobs in other industries. We get paid a little bit more than the minimum wage, but not much more. The big majority of people I work with are on less than £20,000 per year. The typical wage is about £16,000, which is absolutely nothing for central London.

Do you enjoy your work?

I do. The work itself is, well, work, but there’s a good atmosphere. It’s a fun place to work in, but that’s because the people rather than the job make it enjoyable.

What are your bosses like?

At the local level, our managers are okay. Part of that’s because local bosses tend to have been promoted from lower grades. The higher you go, the worse it gets. Senior management are absolutely terrible. Directives come down from head office that are physically impossible to follow, so a lot of the time we just don’t bother.

The top bosses have no understanding of what it’s actually like on the shopfloor. No-one in head office understands the nature of the work and hardly any of them have ever actually done shopfloor-level jobs in the industry. Most of them are just university graduates with backgrounds in business. They know the theory but not the practice.

Is there a union in your workplace and does it do a good job?

No, there’s no union. Workplaces like mine are very difficult to unionise because of the incredibly high turnover of staff. Many workers only last a few months in one workplace because it’s such a mobile industry. People go from hotel to hotel, and ours tends to be one where they start out before moving on.

If you could change one thing about your workplace, what would it be?

I’d try and keep people on longer before having them moved on to a different hotel. From a union point of view, the turnover issue needs looking at because it makes it almost impossible to organise. The other thing, of course, is a big increase in pay. Our levels of pay are simply not enough to live on in central London.

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