Minimum wage

The woman in the canteen is finishing on Friday. Everyone is quite shocked. She’s been there since the office opened about five years ago.

She is an absolutely terrifying person, while at the same time being an absolute sweetheart. I’d guess she’d be in her late fifties at this point. Although this is just a guess.

Wearing the black uniform and neckerchief of the catering company that employs her, means that she always looks the same. I had been working in the company for about a year when I saw her in her civilian clothing for the first time. I was surprised to see that her hair was shoulder length and blonde. She’s a true blue Dub, with an accent that could cut glass.

She takes absolutely no prisoners. She quite reasonably expects everyone to be respectful, friendly and undemanding. We are all grown adults and do not need our hands held. Pity the poor naïve director who arranged for lunch to be supplied to a meeting room, but had the temerity to complain about the fact that there were onions included in the sandwiches when they arrived.

‘You never specified that onions were to be excluded, and if you think that I am going to stand here picking onions out of bread for you, then you have another thing coming.’

She turned on her heel and left. The offending onions remained in the sandwiches.

She is not someone you want to cross. While she is rather generous with her portion sizes, the kitchen manager is  a teabag-counting jobsworth – for example if biscuits and pastries are required for meetings, then the company pays the catering company to provide these. However after the meeting, the kitchen manager will place unused items back on the shelf for resale. Allegedly. Now I wouldn’t want to claim that this extra money is pocketed by himself. But I will certainly suggest it. If you take more than three fillings in a sandwich he will charge you extra. Our heroine however is most giving in her portion sizes to the extent that sometimes you have to tell her to stop. Particularly on Friday, as that is the day that the contents of the fridge are disposed of for health and safety reasons.

Seeing as the entire canteen is subsidised by the company that employs me, and the fact they pay the catering company a flat fee per employee per day, the catering company is making money hand over fist.

Our canteen lady runs an efficient ship – clean, neat and fast. With a smattering of abuse if you misbehave.

The catering company is a multinational.

When I heard she was leaving I asked her if she’d found a better job.

The answer was ‘no’.

The reason she is leaving is because she discovered that new hires were being paid more than she was. They are earning €9.33 per hour. Whereas she is earning the minimum wage of €9.25 per hour. Despite having worked there for five years and running the canteen almost single-handedly. When she asked for a wage increase of 8 cents an hour – 3.20 euro a week to gain parity with new hires, she was refused. So she quit. And rightly so. This has nothing to do with the kitchen manager by the way. This is corporate policy.

I don’t know why I am so shocked.  I know that catering staff routinely earn minimum wage. Although if you are a waitress or a barman. then at least you can supplement your hourly income with tips.

Naively I asked how come she was on minimum wage when she’d been there for five years. Well because she is on a zero hour contract, meaning she has no rights and does not get paid when she is on holiday.

She is lucky as she has a husband in fulltime paid employment. If she didn’t, then she wouldn’t have the luxury of quitting. Imagine she was single though. How would she survive? Even while earning?

Foolishly I thought that because my company bangs on about corporate responsibility and work-life balance that this applied to everyone in the building.

Actually I didn’t think that. I didn’t think at all. I just assumed everything was good.

I hope she will be OK. There is a collection for a gift for her. I have contributed. I hope the present is a fat cheque.










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