Sonia (not her real name) tells of her experience of coming from Europe to live in Liverpool and work at one of the Albert Docks most expensive hotel.
Looking for a job was not as easy as I thought. In order to start working, I needed a bank account, but to open a bank account can be hard, since banks are not allowed to open an account without a work contract.
When looking for a house, we faced similar problems. Agencies asked us for a minimum stay of six months. Previous works in the UK referees and UK guarantors were also required. Dealing with private landlords could be easier, but you are going to face problems if looking for a short stay as I was.
Sometimes those people – agents, bankers and officials- looked more than computers than humans. Therefore, their ways to fix a problem is far away from the reality and thus extremely inefficient. One of the thousands of the bureaucratic contradictions.
However, after a proper preparation of my CV and cover letter and the application of the Insurance Number, I found a job in three weeks for a major hotel services company. This company hired workers and distributed them to different hotels throughout the country.
My duty was to clean rooms of one of the best located and valued hotels of the city of Liverpool. In the first meeting with my Manager, I was able to find out that the Minimum Wage for me would be even lower because I was under 25 years old, that my contract was just verbal and I would be able to a written contract until after two months working there and that some workers were working there under “zero hour contracts”. This means that you do not have any guaranteed working hour. I say “I was able to find out”, because nobody explained me my working conditions, either at the beginning or end of my work experience there.
The fact of being from abroad also gave us more problems, a reality that I could share with my colleagues, most of them coming from East Europe. I take a precious memory of them, for its enormous working capacity and fellowship. Those with the longest experience were forced to a higher productivity to keep the job. This means more rooms and less time per room, even when we were paid per hour.
I also had problems. Work had to be fast and impeccable. I could endure -some days better than others- working with pressure and alone, but the worst was coming. After two weeks working the pay day had arrived, but not the money. I waited two weeks more, and another two. Then, I received my first payment. It didn’t correspond to all my worked hours, not even half of them.
At the hotel they hardly gave me explanations when asked. They did not consider the problem as their own, even though I was working in their hotel. As I mentioned earlier, a large part of the staff was outsourced by a larger company that was in charge of the payments. There were some other colleagues in my situation. Working pace left us no room to waste time exposing our complaints, and no one of our managers were caring to explain us anything.
I was feeling desperate. I was afraid to leave my job without receiving my salary and I needed that money to cover all the expenses of leaving my country and living in the UK. Through my partner I knew of Solidarity Federation (SolFed), an anarcho-syndicalist union in Liverpool that was being re-organised by, among others, some compatriots with a bit of experience in industrial action in the UK.
As soon as we contacted them, they offered us support. If someone had told me before that it would be necessary for me to be reminded of my rights and my legitimacy to fight for them, I would not have believed them.
In situations of vulnerability, when your life is just your job, when anywhere you are continuously remaindered that you are an immigrant, you end up believing that you are entitled to less rights. When you are afraid of not receiving your salary, furthermore you depend on it, you end up believing that to demand your owed wages is something that you should not do. It is in this moments when other people support is really needed to make your demands happen without feeling bad.
So, with SolFed comrades support, I started to act. I contacted again the company, but this time in conjunction with SolFed and after a week I had the whole amount owed. My gratitude to these comrades is infinite, not only for making me recover my money, but for reminding me that when we organize we are stronger and for demonstrating that these kinds of organizations and actions are effective. In short, there is still hope. Against power, counter-power.