Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Shop workers forced to work in Baltic conditions

Readers of this blog will have gathered by now that I am not a huge fan of injustice. Who is? I thought you'd like to hear about the latest thing to make my blood boil. If I get no satisfaction when I phone to complain tomorrow, I will name and shame.

For the moment I'll just say it's a famous high street store in Glasgow city centre.

I'm buying clothes tonight for Christie (niece, 17, tells me to choose clothes for her, no doubt will be sending me back with them come Boxing Day). Anyway, I digress. So I'm in the queue for about 7 minutes and I'm thinking that it's "absolutely Baltic outside in this" before realising that I'm NOT outside, I'm IN a shop thinking I'm about to freeze to death.

So I look up to see how big the queue is and I notice the four staff who are serving on the tills are all wearing coats, scarves and hats! When it's my turn to be served, I ask why they're dressed like that and remark on the temperature. They tell me the heating's not working properly. So I ask what the management is doing about it and they inform me they've "been trying" to get it fixed.

A customer then pipes up "you were all wearing your coats on Saturday and the Saturday before"! I ask if any of the staff have complained. Not that they should have to because it's bleeding obvious. They say that the management are aware of it. When I ask about the simple (if temporary) solution of plugging in some radiators, they tell me I would need to speak to the management about that. The person serving me could hardly operate the till, so cold were their fingers!

I told them I was an MSP and I would be speaking to their managers in the morning. I assured them that as none of them had said anything negative about their managers and had only answered my questions factually, they had nothing to fear and I would not be giving any indication as to which of them had spoken to me. Isn't it utterly ridiculous that I have to give that assurance.

But who can blame them for being a little nervous when their employers seem to think it's perfectly acceptable for them to work all day in baltic conditions? I am utterly shocked. It is hard enough working on a shop floor. I know this because I've done it - I refer you back to the tales of my demotion from the jewellery counter to the pic'n'mix in Woolies circa 1982!

Working at Christmas is a nightmare. You rarely stop, many customers are stressed out, in a hurry and basically downright bloody rude. You're stressed out yourself but unfortunately YOU don't get to be rude, YOU have to be courteous at all times and YOU have to remember that the customer (even the TRULY rude one) is always right.

Added to that the pay is invariably unimpressive.

So, the staff on the ground floor at X Shop in Glasgow have all of that to contend with PLUS they're expected to freeze to death. It's outrageous.

So I phoned the manager of the store tonight when I got home. I don't find it easy to be this bolshy you know. Laugh if you like but I consider myself to be quite shy. However, the great thing about my job is that when something's quite clearly as wrong as this is, I don't feel I have a choice, I can't ignore it. So I decided not to put it off till morning and I phoned the manager when I got home. He told me that the heating IS working but because the doors keep opening it's not adequate. (Them pesky doors eh?)

He informed me that heating engineers would be coming in overnight to try to fix it but on further questioning it seems they have been in several times but it's made no difference. I said I was pretty sure that under health and safety regulations this was not allowable - never having read them I don't know but you'd think there was something in them about not having to freeze to death in the line of serving customers. I asked if their Head Office was aware and he said yes, they were. I asked about plug in heaters and he said they were not allowed to do that. I asked if Head Office would back up that statement and he confirmed they would.

So I'll be phoning Head Office in the morning and telling them that I am reporting them to whoever it is this gets reported to. I'll also be telling them that they'll be doing themselves a great favour if they act IMMEDIATELY to sort this out. Here are my suggestions in order of preference - plug in heaters; close the tills on the ground floor and ask customers to go upstairs; rota system so nobody works on the ground floor for more than half an hour and they are given additional breaks PLUS (and this is in addition to any one of those options) an apology and significant bonus payments to each and every one of the shop floor workers in recognition of the suffering they've endured!

Call me naive but I am utterly shocked that this situation has been allowed to endure for the whole of today never mind for the last who-knows-how-many weeks.


  1. The HSE have a view:

  2. Thanks James. They can't wriggle out of it on the "reasonable temperatures" bit because they've accepted there's a problem. Good to have this info. Thanks a lot. Have a good Christmas. Anne