I recently finished a stint of temporary employment with a fairly prominent environmental organisation that enjoys charitable status. Along with around 25 other people, I was helping on a project for the organisation that required working outside nearly all of the day. We signed contracts promising us “continuous employment” during the project dates. All seemed well and good.
However, the snow and ice that descended upon Britain earlier this month meant that we weren’t allowed out to work because of the ‘ealth’n’safety. My colleagues and I only had this confirmed to us by text message on the snowy mornings – usually less than an hour before we were supposed to start the day’s work.
This was frustrating enough. What was even more annoying was then being told that we weren’t going to be paid for those days. Through no fault of our own, we were losing pay. The workers were expected to take the brunt of the costs incurred by the snow days in order to save the bosses in their offices some money.
I was in a fortunate situation because I had another job to go to. Many of my colleagues, however, suffered agonising stress as they realised they would have difficulty paying their bills after losing around five days’ worth of pay. Some of these people had been loyal employees of the organisation for years but were being treated very poorly.
The nature of the work means that noone had joined an appropriate union for protection. A letter of protest was written and signed by just about everyone on the team. Even though it seems as if the organisation has broken its obligations under the contract to provide “continuous work” to the project staff, we are in a weak position and can only hope for a sudden sense of generosity on the part of those managing the project.
Most of the project team were middle-class and in little danger of imminent starvation. But it was depressing to witness a charity treating its workers so abysmally. Readers will be kept updated of any developments in this heroic wage struggle!