Thursday, June 16, 2005

Shift Work or Shit Work

Lately, I haven't had much time to blog. I've been teaching English at four schools. This is the summer season, where the primary and secondary schools are closed. The mums and dads want to get their kids out of their house - and what better than to educate them at the same time? That means that at your normal English school, the curriculum expands from weeknights and weekends to the fresh, fertile terrain of the 9-to-5 Monday to Friday working day. 

I did not deliberately aim to work at four schools. Until March of this year, I had been working only at School #1 for a year. Then I took a holiday with my fiancée to Australia. All my classes were given to someone else. That's ok. Unfortunately, School #1 decided not to give me any new classes when I got back. There weren't many available, and their priority was to give the new ones to the full-timers. They'd also been pursuing a policy of hiring a lot of new teachers for the summer season, so there were even less classes than normal. After a few weeks of the very meager pickings of substitute work, I thought "enough was enough". It was time to update my resume, and fire it off to a few schools.

I succeeded in scoring work at Schools #2, #3 and #4... while School #1 finally gave me a regular class for the next couple of weeks. I've now got 32 hours of teaching. Multiply the preparation time by 1.5 to 2, and that gives me about 50 to 64 hours of doing work related shit. My schedule now looks like misaligned Lego blocks. I admit it will be exhausting, but it will also be lucrative, and I only have two or three months of it to deal with. It is all shift work. Each school knows I work at other schools, and they understand if I am not available to do substitute work. I get paid by the hour, and that is often the life of an English teacher.

All of this is a preamble to this little article, which made me angry. Perhaps it's just excessive empathy, but anyway - from The Charleston Gazette:

Wal-Mart officials in Cross Lanes told employees on Tuesday they have to start working practically any shift, any day they’re asked, even if they’ve built up years of seniority and can’t arrange child care.

One paragraph alone, and I saw more red than a VU meter at a forest rave.

Now I don't know Wal-Mart. I hear it is a shit company to work for, and I also gather it produces shitty products. Perhaps the nearest thing we have in Australia is a combination of Crazy Clarks and Target, except that the quality sounds worse than either. Oh, and you can get fired in Wal-Mart if you even breathe the word "union". But I don't have any personal experience or animus with the company. I only know that what Wal-Mart is doing is a bad thing.

Firstly, if they say:

Store management said the policy change is needed to keep enough staff at the busiest hours, ...

They're lying. They're probably also incompetent.

Each school I work with has a few hard-working people on administration, trying to sort out schedules and phoning up people for last-ditch emergencies. Teachers may come down with a stomach bug, and they need to phone someone else to cover the class. Yes, they can be a pain in the ass if you say "no"; they'll ask again, and may even put on a sad face if you meet them in person. But they're doing their job, and they never guilt-trip or threaten you if the "no" is definitive. They also understand that you are working shift-work, so you may not be available anyway. They'll take also take a "no" if it is your one personal emergency. I've heard people being sacked for that word, but only if they are lying (such as pretending to be sick with the runs when they are really getting sick on the alcohol). Or full-timers really working at other schools, and thus breaching their contract. 

I am also fortunate in having a supportive partner, and no kids to manage. The same cannot be said of the Wal-Mart workers, who often are female, divorced, and have kids to raise. How the hell can you threated people to drop all they are doing and work? The employees are in a dilemma: lose their job, or face the spectacle of their unsupervised kiddies having their own terminal experience with Mr. Hot Plate or Ms. Bathtub. For even putting the staff in that position, the manager responsible should get a horse-whippin' along the whole length of the Mason-Dixon line.

The real truth is, of course, the second half of the second paragraph. It is a despicable move, but strangely incompetent:

... but some employees said it appears to be an attempt to force out longer-term, higher-paid workers. 

After all, all the new employees have to be trained, don't they? Costs money, I thought. Kicking out the old-timers destroys morale as well, with the resulting turnover higher than a hydro-electric turbine. Others may argue that the turnover may cost money, but not as much as the income of the higher-paid workers lost in the process. After all, Wal-Mart is a financially-successfully company by any measure, and a lot of their wealth - they allege - is based on careful cost-cutting, "such as reducing paper used through computerization.". However, they have also managed to get five members of the Walton family (relatives of the company's founder, Sam Walton) in to the Forbes's Top 20 Richest People in the World list. Careful cost-cutting, my ass. That's just corporate entitlement.