Here’s a story of another employment shambles – yet another example of the reasons why low-wage work is impossible to survive on:
“Alice” (name changed), is in her early 40s. She’s been claiming Universal Credit for about three years.
Alice has recently been employed as a jobcentre security guard. This is Alice’s first job for some time. She needs the work and she needs the money. Alice has serious rent arrears (she’s being evicted from her flat because of that), council tax debt and more.
Unfortunately, starting work won’t improve Alice’s situation – certainly not in the first instance.
Alice has been told that she won’t get her first wages for nearly two months.
That’s because the company that employed Alice (a contractor/subsidiary/whatever that apparently supplies guards under the G4S Secure Solutions banner) has an horrendously punitive pay system.
Payday is the last day of each month. People get paid a month in arrears. So – if someone starts work at the beginning of April, for example, they must wait until May 31st for their first wages. They get nothing on 30 April. I have seen HR emails which outline this “system” to pissed-off employees who ask about it. People ask about it, because they can’t believe it. The emails describe the timelag. I swear to god. I keep looking at those emails and that is what they say. This stuff does my head in.
Two months is a long time to go without money. It is an especially long time to go without money when you have no money to start with – when you’ve been out of work for years and you’re about to lose your flat, because you can’t afford rent.
“I don’t have money. I don’t have money to eat – I have, like, £5 for… I’m going to have to be on a diet.”
At training, Alice and other guard trainees were told that their employer would only pay them one month’s wages in that first payment at the end of the first two months. The trainer said that they would receive that month’s outstanding wages when their employment ended.
“It’s like I’m paying deposit to work for them or something.”
I looked at the HR emails again. I concluded that the month’s “withheld wages” likely has to do with the month-in-arrears payment system. In our previous example, if a person started work at the beginning of April and was first paid wages on 31st May, they would only be paid for their April earnings on 31 May. They wouldn’t be paid their May wages until 30 June.
This stuff drives people up the wall.
Alice and other guards are told by their employer to tell jobcentres that they’re with G4S Secure Solutions when they turn up for work. I’ve seen messages with that exact instruction. So, I asked G4S for comment on this wages behaviour from companies that supply security guards under the G4S banner.
This part of the exercise was as thankless as you’d expect.
G4S was pissed off. I wouldn’t tell them the name of the company that was sending in security guards on its behalf. I had reason for withholding that name for now – protecting Alice from retribution being one. I was hoping (ha) that G4S would take the initiative anyway – that it would immediately announce an inspection of every supplier and anyone who appeared to be providing guards on its behalf to ensure that everyone operated on the level.
Such initiative is never taken, of course. You rarely get initiative. You only get corporate defensiveness.
I got this from G4S:
“We only work with sub-contractors approved by the security industry association approved contractor scheme and we expect the organisations we use to align to our policies for remuneration, cash advances and uniform provision,” etc, etc.
I also got a lot of moaning – G4S saying it was unfair to make connections between itself and other companies without handing over details. The hell with that. I hand over nothing. G4S has less to lose than Alice. As I say, I couldn’t see why G4S couldn’t take some sort of initiative regardless.
I rang the company that employed Alice to ask about the connection between itself and G4S – and also, as it happens, to ask about applying for security guard roles for someone else. Needless to say, nobody called back. So – we’ll keep at it. Maybe there are companies out there who send guards off to jobcentres, tell them to say they work for G4S if anyone asks and then have a laugh out the back. Hell – maybe there really are. This end of the employment scene is infernal. The thing teems with corporates, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and anyone else who has an eye to the main chance and no notion of fairness or responsibility. When Alice and I first spoke, she wasn’t entirely sure who she was working for. That happens all the time.
Her new employment has presented Alice with other money problems.
She’s had to take another Universal Credit loan to pay for expensive peak-hour travel across London to the jobcentres sites that she works at. Like everyone I talk to who claims Universal Credit, Alice is already paying back a Universal Credit advance loan which she took out to cover another debt.
Her jobcentre work coach said that the DWP would suspend repayments on the first loan while Alice waited for her first wages. Unfortunately, a loan repayment deduction was still made from Alice’s last Universal Credit payment. Her work coach said that he couldn’t give Alice a free travel pass, because her employer wasn’t able to say in advance exactly which days Alice would be working, or where. Alice has a zero hours contract and is sent to different jobcentres. Those decisions are made on the day.
I realise that many people couldn’t care less what happens to jobcentre security guards. God knows I’ve reported first-hand experiences of guard aggression. The point I’m making is that there are people out there who find work, but still can’t earn.
I’d also make the point that government likes the sort of tension that festers at jobcentres. It takes stressed, bullied and poverty-stricken benefit claimants, low-paid security guards and jobcentre advisers with the power to sanction people’s benefit payments, and abandons everyone to each other in jobcentres. It’s hard not to conclude that carnage has always been the plan.