The Hidden Bosses of Contract Workers - Another Reason to Change the Rules and the System
Recently while having lunch in a food court, I was talking to two cleaners. They told me about what happened to a couple of other cleaners they work with who were on another shift.
The cleaners clean a big suburban shopping centre owned by a big national shopping centre owner. They not only have impossible workloads cleaning the centre malls, food courts and public toilets, but they are also expected to be "customer service" workers as well.
They have tight schedules to keep to, such as ensuring that tables in the food court are never left with plates and cups or cutlery for more than a couple of minutes after shoppers have got up and left their table. Cleaners' routine is often interrupted by some unexpected call for assistance from shoppers wanting to know directions to the toilet or inquiring about where to find a particular retailer in the shopping centre. Or to clean up an unexpected spill on the mall floor to prevent someone slipping and hurting themselves.
When the cleaners are due for their staggered rest or meal break, they are rarely replaced. So the cleaner left on duty, instead of having to be in two places at once with a smile on their face, has to be in three or four places at once to cover for the cleaner on their break!
Sometimes shoppers or retail tenants complain or want the cleaner in front of their retail outlet patch immediately.
Cleaners reach breaking point sometimes in these circumstances.
The two cleaners on the opposite shift reached their breaking point.
A retail tenant yelled at one of them to tell the other cleaner to clean up in front of his part of tenant's shop in the food court. The cleaner said "ok" and because she did not have time to walk over to tell this to the other cleaner, she yelled it out aloud across a few tables full of shoppers in the food court. The other cleaner yelled back she was too busy and would get to the complaint area as soon as she could.
A couple of hours later both the cleaners were told to go home via a phone call from their contractor boss. The next day their contractor boss tells them that the shopping centre owner wanted both of them removed from the centre because they had given the shopping centre a "a bad image" by yelling at each other across the food court!
The contractor boss apparently told the two "offending" cleaners that he was powerless to stop the shopping centre from demanding their removal. If he did not remove them the centre could decide to cancel the cleaning contract altogether and get another contract company in. He said they were good cleaners and he would try and find them work at another site.
Two bosses, but only one wage and a low one at that!
The cleaners I spoke to said this story was an example of their biggest problem at work. They said they had "two bosses" and they never knew when their "hidden boss’, the shopping centre owner, was going to strike. Sometimes it was a strike that meant they all would lose their jobs because the cleaning contract changed. Other times it was because of something petty reported to or seen by the shopping centre manager about a particular cleaner, as in the example shared with me by the two cleaners.
I thought after my conversation with the cleaners that there must be hundreds of thousands of contract workers in a range of industries facing the same situation. It is bad enough being watched by your immediate boss, but capitalist exploitation and "surveillance" of workers is double trouble when you effectively have two bosses to worry about, one visible and the other hidden.
So contract workers will no doubt want to see a new Labor Government implement changes to industrial laws and rules that have real teeth in them and make invisible bosses as well as the visible bosses pay for their anti-worker actions. Significant changes for contract workers are possible only if the workers’ movement as a whole outside parliament is too strong for any government to ignore. The momentum is building.
Let's hope for these cleaners’ sake that the Change The Rules campaign which is already showing signs of diluting to Change The Rules Change The Government develops in to a sustainable movement to Change The System.