Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 19 Oct 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Spankmuffin Aviation and the job from hell

On Monday, I went to a recruitment event with a company we’ll call Spankmuffin Aviation. The jobs on offer were for staff to help people at the check-in at large airport, because the days of turning up and talking to an actual person are, apparently, long gone. You have to do it yourself, which avoids the company having to pay staff to do it and manages to make air travel feel that bit more cheap and faintly underwhelming than it already does. You’re on your feet for hours at a time, dealing with people who are often rude, stressed or baffled. And frequently a combination of all three. For this role, you’re paid the princely sum of just over eight pounds an hour.

My reason for drawing attention to this is partly shock that jobs are being pared back and offered to the lowest cost bidder, partly that the other people there were some of the most decent and accomplished human beings I’ve ever met and, finally, that if you’re one of the lucky people for whom a job that floats barely above the minimum wage seems like it’s on a different planet, you really need to know what life is like for the poor sods who need the work.

The very fact that 19 of us were herded into a conference room in the Anonymous Hotel, together, tells you something important. It tells you that we were competing against each other for signs that we wanted the job more than anyone else. Presumably, if things had gone full Lord of the Flies and we’d started eating each other or committing murder, a big tick would have been put down next to our names on the assessors’ clipboard and we’d have been ushered smoothly through to the next stage of the process. As it was, we had to take part in a series of ‘communication tasks’ that were related to the job we were doing in the same way that the table in the lounge is related to me having a large bowel movement, lending to the feeling that the day was a kind of bastard hybrid of Pop Idol and The Apprentice in which humiliation and self-abasement for the right to wear the Spankmuffin polyester tie were key ingredients.

Some people thought, to their eternal credit, ‘fuck this’ and left early on. The rest of us stumbled on and ‘made it’ to the interview stage late in the afternoon. Bearing in mind that we were being asked, tacitly, to knife each other for a job that barely pays at all, we weren’t given lunch and car parking wasn’t free, so by that stage I’d forked out around £7.50 for the privilege of making myself look like a complete cock. Anyway. It was over lunch and also after the interview stage, when we were thrown together away from the watchful eye of the training department, whose job it is to fist you and make sure you’re smiling, the Spankmuffin narrative came badly unstuck.

Some of the people on the day were already doing the job and, in fact, had been doing it that very morning, but were working for a contractor and had been told to reapply for their own jobs. They should simply have been waved through the process but, instead, were asked to come down into the minimum wage bear pit and fight it out with the rest of us. They didn’t complain, but went along with the tasks as they were bidden and, for a group of people I may never have met before, were some of the most beautiful people it’s yet been my pleasure to meet. Should Spankmuffin employ them, then they will be getting people who have already demonstrated, often in the teeth of huge, belligerent idiocy from the passengers, that they can do the job politely and courteously and who, incidentally, speak about 16 languages between them. Had it been me in charge, they’d all have been taken on in a heartbeat.

More significantly, we were told that, if we chose to leave the job before our one year contract was up, we’d be paying them £500 for our training. Now, call me an insane optimist who places a huge and disproportionate value on treating people as you’d wish to be treated, but it’d be significantly more effective if they offered you the £500 for staying on for three, six, nine or twelve months. But no. I asked why and was told that people were using the company as a stepping stone into other employment, which strikes me as being A Good Thing and should motivate them into working harder to keep their staff. Supinely accepting that some of them will bugger off and imposing a hefty financial penalty to stop them seems punitive and reactionary. But that’s me.

The penalty was the factor behind me deciding that, no, this job wasn’t for me, but there were others, including the fact that Spankmuffin make a fairly tidy operating profit each year but seem to treat their staff as though they’re a regrettable expense, paring breaks back to the absolute minimum and expecting people to stand for hours at a time with very little rhyme or reason behind it. Are you more effective when your legs have either gone numb or feel like they’re falling off? No,not really. You tend to work better when you’re rested and alert but, again, that’s just me. I’m not an expert.

I’d be quite keen for the training staff from Spankmuffin Aviation to reflect on the fact that if you’re using a slightly elevated position in an organisation to shaft people on behalf of your employers, you’re probably a huge waste of skin and organs, and the kind of person that totalitarian regimes rely on to keep them running. When I was faced by the Spankmuffin woman who asked me to explain why I deserved the job more than anyone else, I found that I wanted to pull her neckerchief tight, until it bit into her flesh and then caused her head to pop off like a cork. The answer was that I didn’t deserve the job more than anyone else because there were people who needed it much more than me and because, however tenuous, I do have other options. Many of the other people don’t. So I didn’t deserve the job. At all.

The people from Spankmuffin who work on the shop floor have my lasting respect and sympathy for doing a demanding job which is resolutely unglamorous and where they are in the firing line all the time. And the managers and training staff of Spankmuffin can die in a ditch. I saw the best of humanity and the worst of it on Monday. The worst was wearing a Spankmuffin uniform, the best trying to get a job. I know who I side with.

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