I'd like to think that I know the value of hard work. I come from a family of grafters: my dad is self-employed and has worked from 7am until 5pm for over forty years. My mum has had a series of part time jobs while doing the administrative work for my dad's business and somehow managing to raise six quasi-normal children. For my dad, those who don't work their asses off are some of the worst people in the world. Right up there with immigrants, gays, and Catholics.
A product of my environment, I've had a job since I was thirteen. I have worked in a coffee shop, a department store 'restaurant', a hotel and another coffee shop. I maintained a job throughout high school, while at university and worked full time during a gap year.
The worst place was the hotel. From seventeen to twenty, I worked at large functions as a waiter and a bartender. It was a horrible place; full of megalomaniacal chefs, a manager with a personality disorder and customers with more money than manners. My shifts would frequently run for thirteen hours or more. Food was rarely provided for the staff. Even if it was, we never managed to get enough of a break to eat anything. I can still recall that feeling of extreme lightheadedness that comes from being on one's feet for hours at a time. I worked my ass off for the minimum wage in that place, and my experiences there gave me my fill of getting fucked over by employers. Or so I thought ...
I have been unemployed since early June. My latest job was in an office; which was welcome change for someone who hadn't ever worked outside of the hospitality. That role was only temporary, so I have been trawling the streets of Glasgow and checking Gumtree multiple times a day for two months now in search of work.
I was suitably thrilled, then, when I received a call from one of the many restaurants I had given my CV to. I'm not going to reveal the name of the place. All you have to know is that's a hipster cocktail bar/restaurant in Glasgow that serves Asian street food. They asked me to come in for a trial shift. I was desperate, so without asking a single question I agreed to come in for a couple of hours on a Tuesday night.
The trial shift went better than I thought. I was a bit nervous that I had forgotten how to be a competent server, but it turns out you can't really forget. Serving the public is like riding a bike; a bike with outlandishly high expectations and a self-diagnosed gluten intolerance. I was even given positive feedback - my colleagues for the night said that I picked everything up really quickly, and even mentioned that they couldn't have got through the busy night without me.
It wasn't until the end of the shift that one of the girls I was working with let it slip that I wouldn't be getting paid for my time. Yes, that is correct. Aside from a few pounds in tips, I wasn't getting compensated or my time. I might as well just have spent the evening engaging in my normal routine of obsessive cleaning and reality television.
I was understandably furious when I got home. Furious at the restaurant management for exploiting those in search of work. Furious at myself for not asking about payment during the initial phone call. More furious at myself for working so fucking hard - if I knew I was going home empty-handed, I would've strolled around the place pretending not to know what I was doing, only serving people I found attractive.
Look, I don't know the legalities of paying prospective employees for trial shift. It definitely seems like the kind of thing that would get Owen Jones' knickers in a twist, so I'll leave it to him. What I do know is that I will not work for free. Well I suppose there would be a few jobs I would take on without being paid - one being the host of Real Housewives reunions and another as Tom Daley's personal manscaper.
The way I see it, I have three options:
- Treat this as a learning experience and continue looking for a job.
- Give the manager a call and reasonably explain that I don't think it's right to expect people to work for free.
- Send them an invoice outline how much I intend on charging them for my work. If they don't pay me, I will go in for dinner, have a dinner that costs roughly the amount I am owed, and leave without paying.
Let me know which one you think I should go for.
I started this piece by questioning if I knew the value of hard work. After going over all the times I have nearly fainted from starvation, or had to hold my tongue when being screamed at by some bridezilla, I think I do; and it certainly isn't nothing.