My life at work: working in the energy industry

Submitted by Matthew on 18 February, 2010 - 10:08 Author: Tom Fawley

Tom Fawley is an office worker for N-Power in northern England.

Tell us a little bit about the work you do.

I work for the energy company N-Power. I mainly do office work so spend most of my time behind a desk. Our workplace deals with tasks like making sure electricity meters get set up and connected in new builds.

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

My pay is okay. Some of my colleagues are pretty badly paid, and there are some temping agency workers in the workplace too; they’re paid dreadfully. I’m on £20,000 a year, which is slightly above the average. Conditions are generally all right — we get our breaks and management aren’t too heavy-handed.

Has the economic crisis affected your work? Has it affected the way workers think about their jobs?

It’s definitely affected us. Lots of construction projects stopped, so there weren’t as many places needing new electricity supplies. Our next round of pay negotiations are about to begin and people are worried that the bosses might use the cover of the economic crisis to refuse to give us a cost-of-living increase this year which is something we’ve always had traditionally.

What do people talk about in your workplace? How easy is it to “talk politics on the job”?

All sorts of issues come up — recently it’s been stuff about bankers and the Iraq war while the Chilcot Enquiry was taking place. It’s fairly easy to start political conversations, but as a socialist I’m often in a minority on questions like immigration. We’re an energy generation company so there is a certain consciousness around green issues, but there are also a lot of people who are pretty sceptical about climate change or look to “greenwash”-type solutions.

Do you enjoy your work?

Yes, I do. There’s no direct micromanagement, I’m generally left to get on with things.

What are your bosses like?

I only have to report to them and show our figures once a month, and I don’t even know if those figures get read. I’ve worked with bosses on other sites who were more authoritarian and bullying but the managers here are very hands-off.

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

There are three recognised unions — Unison, Unite and GMB. Unite is the main one in my workplace and that’s the one I’m active in. There are problems with rivalries between the unions, and they tend to spend a lot of time on disciplinaries and casework rather than on organising. I’m a Unite shop steward and my work mainly involves trying to build the union. We try to have regular meetings, and people come to us for advice because we tend to be the first people to find out new information on things like pay.

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

Better public transport links to and from the workplace. The buses are terrible and sometimes people on the late shift end up having to wait for up to an hour for a bus after finishing work. I’d also like to see flexible working introduced as our hours are sometimes hard to deal with.

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