In the first of a regular series, our clandestine temporary worker exposes the world of minimum wage, miserly bosses and precarious shift work.

Tuesday 10th August

“Oh, and you’ll have to buy some new shoes” she sniffed, glancing down at my black plimsoll-clad feet. “Those simply aren’t acceptable for work.”

“Right,” I mumbled uncomfortably, “it’s just that the last pair I brought fell apart and I’m not sure I can afford another pair since you cancelled my shift today…”

“Like I said, you can’t wear trainers to work”. Mentally subtracting another £5 from my food budget for the week, I meekly thanked her and shuffled out of the temp agency with the gracious promise of six hours work at minimum wage – enough to cover the weekly travelcard that enables me to get to work. Before this less-than-fantastic encounter, I had turned up to work a seven hour catering job at 5p over minimum wage with no break and no food. Not an appetising prospect (pun intended), but two shifts this week would be enough to cover my rent.

Upon arriving I was unceremoniously informed that my shift had been cancelled, and that the second promised shift of the week was now looking precarious. This, apparently, is what you sign up for when you sign up for a temp job.

Wednesday 11th August

3pm, and I disembarked a hot and smelly tube at a famous, London-based sporting venue. After following some incredibly bad directions, getting lost and having a kind stranger point me in the right direction, I eventually found the desk where the agency workers checked in – with a queue half a mile long. The other check-in desks were conspiciously empty. I later found that this was because other agencies tell their staff to get there earlier. Our agency does not, as we have to be paid from the minute we sign in regardless of when we start work- the later we can arrive, the better.

After donning my fetching, branded polo shirt and baseball cap I hurried over to my assigned kiosk. Upon arrival I was thrust a number of forms requiring my signature, confirming that I had had a staff briefing, understood the health and safety and food hygiene rules, knew where the fire escape and first aid kit were and could use the different microwave ovens in the kitchen. The fact that I knew precisely none of these things and that my briefing was non-existent was not of immediate concern to the stressed and overworked team leader.

When I met the manager, I understood why. Berating the previous night’s employees for not cleaning properly at the end of their shift, he informed us that if our kiosks were not up to his standards we would not be paid. He repeatedly implored that we smile and behave courteously to customers – the same customers he didn’t trust not to snatch money out of the till, instructing us to open the drawer only halfway and always take money before placing drinks on the counter.

His contempt for customers paled into insignificance compared to his hatred for employees, however. The list of prohibited activities he reeled off would take up 20 pages, so I’ve reproduced a choice selection below.:

1. No sitting on the desks – even when the shutters are closed in half-time and before cleaning. It’s not like six hours of standing still is at all hard on your feet, right?

2. Do not accept tips – and if someone gives you a tip, put it straight into the till. Yes, into the till, where we will never see it again. No prizes for guessing whose pocket that particular piece of profit works its way into.

3. If – and this really is the clincher – if you find money on the floor, inside or outside the kiosk, put it into the till. That’s right, if one of the 75,000 fans, upon leaving the venue, happens to drop a £20 note and your beady eyes happen to spot it, you must put it in the till. If you don’t and someone spots you – well, you’re out of a job.

It’s lucky I’m earning such great money here or I wouldn’t – oh, wait. The money I earned from this shift? The grand sum of……. £34.60! As a fellow employee said; “They treat us like shit and pay us a pittance because there’s always someone desperate enough to work like this”. Welcome to the recession!