Counter Jumpers

Went to get my flu jab today after being told I could visit the ‘walk in clinic’ between 8.45 – 12 noon. I was there bright and early, only to learn that they are only doing ‘priority cases.’

‘Why did you say to come in?’ I asked very politely. (There is a notice on the window saying patients who shout abuse will be struck off).

‘Well there are two new girls working here and they don’t know anything about the appointments system or the special clinics,’ came the reply.

Why would they? This is England where we pride ourselves on a lack of basic training and accept that no one behind a counter will know anything.

On Sunday I attended the Oxford Garden Centre, full of enthusiasm for putting in my autumn bulbs. I asked a youth on the till where they kept the bulb fibre. No reply. Not only did he not look at me, but he muttered so inaudibly that I thought he had no English, something we’ve got very used to. He was English, but as an older man explained, ‘He’s new here, he doesn’t know anything about gardening.’

And why should he, he’s only going to work in a garden centre, and why would the people who’ve been there longer make any attempt to train him in the job? This is a land glorying in years of low productivity, besides it might be against his human rights to intervene and tell him anything. We have no hierarchies now, even at work.

This strange attitude, which I believe is unique to England, has gone on for years. I used to use a large Home Base on the Warwick Road in London. There was a young Dutchman working there and every regular customer tried to grab him. He could have been Justin Bieber by the way he was mobbed. He was the only person working there who knew anything about the stock. I felt sorry for him as he must have been exhausted by the end of the day. He should certainly have been their employee of the year, if they had thought of such a thing, which they didn’t.

I once bought some paint there, assisted by a British Afro-Caribbean youth. He mixed it for me using a special computerised machine. At home I found the paint was the wrong colour.

‘Well he doesn’t know how to do it,’ said the voice on the phone, indignantly, when I rang up to complain.

The white British staff were worse, as not only did they not know ‘how to do it,’ they were surly. When I attempted to buy curtains there a woman assistant said she couldn’t help me as she, ‘couldn’t do metric.’ She then went on her tea break.

These memories come back with slight alarm as I listened to Mrs May’s words about the free movement of Labour, from the Tory conference in Birmingham this week.

She knows that Brexit was really all about immigration. Most people who voted to leave did so because they don’t want any more migrants from anywhere. It seems now that we may lose our EU workers but gain others form the rest of the world. India is already offering us their doctors, who they say will return home again when they’ve ‘gained experience.’

Mrs May is going to publish her final plans next year. She’s optimistic, claiming that, ‘For the first time in decades, it will be this country that controls and chooses who we want to come here. For too long people have felt they have been ignored on immigration and that politicians have not taken their concerns seriously enough.

‘At the same time,’ she says, ‘we are training up British people for the skilled jobs of the future.’

Are we really, can we do that, with our culture of low skills, low expectations grade-inflation and entitlement? If she means what she says, she will have to bring about a complete cultural change if not a revolution in how British people view work.

At present British people will not do dirty jobs for £5 an hour, but the PM has not proposed to start paying people in the care system a good wage. We need fruit pickers, but farmers have not been instructed to employ and pay enough to attract home grown workers.

When I desperately needed work in 2005-10 as a white, middle aged, middle class woman I could get nothing. There were no women like me working on supermarket tills, in cafes or care-homes. Part of this was directly due to our EU membership.

I tried the Natural History Museum as they had vacancies for guides and I am keen on dinosaurs. I met a Portuguese girl of nineteen who was doing it. She said that like her colleagues she was recruited from via the EU employment website, by an agency which took most of her pay.

The other reasons its hard for a Brit to get low paid work are more nebulous and sinister. After the NHM I went for a similar job at the Museum of London. I have a History degree and experience as a teacher. But modern job specs demand varied skills and an absurdly wide range of experience. This one wanted guides who also had ‘experience in retail and cash handling.’

Then there was the politics involved. The doctrine of inclusiveness is a flag flown in almost every area of our public life. To work in a London museum I also needed, ‘a second language, Polish or Punjabi preferred.’

That job application form wanted to know my ethnicity, gender and sexual persuasion. I was tempted to put Lesbian as I sensed that might help, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep up the deception.

After five years of rejection I gave up trying to get a low paid job. I was too old I was too white, I was over skilled by having a degree but under trained in other jobs. As I gave up on work I acknowledged an ingrained aspect of our culture; outside the professions, below a certain wage level, British people don’t work; there’s no recruitment, no training and no expectation that they will.

For at least the last thirty years we have developed what I think of as almost a ‘slave economy’ where the wealthy rely on the very poor, very young and desperate to do their dirty, but essential jobs. How is Mrs May going to change this entrenched confusion of greed and ideology without making many more of us, from those seeking servants to seeking work, much more uncomfortable?

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5 Comments on Counter Jumpers

  1. As a leftie, I hate to say it, but I largely agree with this. At the bottom end of the pay scale, people are treated appallingly. Effort and skills are not rewarded by managers. Indeed, managers seem only to exist to bully their staff – a very British problem. Find someone working in a shop who is encouraged (not threatened) to know about the stock and provide customer service, and the chances are you are in John Lewis. Everywhere else, staff are cannon fodder. Treat them badly, pay them worse, and accept high staff turnover.

    As you highlighted, a lot of the problem is down to customers. Yes we want the elderly to be looked after properly, but we aren’t willing to pay wages that people can live on.

    All those desperate to see foreigners thrown out, will doubtless wail when the price of vegetables goes up as all the EU pickers go home and the British demand proper wages to do the job. The government has been banging on about foreign workers depressing wages but never mention that if wages rise, so will prices. We British love cheap, as long as it’s someone else paying the real bill.

    Re the museum. I can see why they would ask for a second language. This is a tourist destination after all, and in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. If you are from the EU, the chances are you speak 2 or more languages. In Britain, we have never managed to do this. You’d think someone would have popped over the channel to find out how every other country manages this, but it seems not. Not in 50 years.

    Which brings us back to “This is England where we pride ourselves on a lack of basic training”…

    • In the 1990’s Marks and Spencers had all their staff trained in customer service by a well-known American businesswoman trainer. At least one British airline and one organisation in the legal field were also trained by her company.

      In respect of British farming, it can be seen why a certain think tank and others associated with the Tory Party would like to see Britain opened up to imports of cheap meat from the USA.

      With regard to the requirement for multiple-language speaking recruits, a great many people from the EU countries and elsewhere in the world know enough English to get by. The requirement to speak a second language might be seen as a way to favour recruits from the EU.

  2. London is not cosmopolitan. It is being ethnically cleansed. Before long British people will be exhibits in the great museums their forefathers built.

  3. Compare the training of the young newly-employed with the example of Germany, as related in the recent book, Berlin Rules, by Paul Lever, Britain’s former ambassador to Germany.

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