Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Royal Mail

Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 4.

While I was passing my branch, I stopped in to see if they could help me – since my online requests were going in circles. I just wanted the “Esq” they had added after my name removed. Having ignored it for years, the final straw was when they addressed me with the suffix “Esq Esq”. There was the original complaint, part two, part three, and now – read on:

Hi [staff member’s forename],

Apologies for the delay in replying to your recent email. It has been a busy old time for me, and I plan to tie up some of your time by writing about it. For a start, I had to get a pair of glasses. I am not saying the Bank Of Scotland caused me sight problems, by forcing me to write so many letters on the laptop in a bid to resolve this once-trifling issue, but it is wonderful to finally be able to read what I am writing. Indeed, having read over my past letters prior to composing this one, it is heartening to note that I typed them all the right way up. I would hate to discover that the slight imperfection in my vision was the source of hitherto-unrealised embarrassment.

I hope you had a pleasant Easter. Personally, as a freelancer, I find it to be a huge inconvenience. There is a weekend in April – pick a weekend, any weekend; it varies annually – when suddenly everything useful is shut and everywhere else is uncommonly busy. Unless Jesus died on a different day every year, the whole holiday is a bit of a sham. Still, Easter Sunday was a good day for the Trussell Trust and the foodbanks it runs. On the back of an ill-considered article in the Mail On Sunday, their donations soared. I donated. I also rewrote the article to contain the truth, and it has now been read over 5000 times. Just think, five thousand people took the time to read something I wrote. If I had had a couple of fish and some loaves I could have attempted to feed them, which relates both to the messiah whose death we celebrated and to the nature of that Nazi rag’s disgust. How dare we feed the poor?

The following events took place on Tuesday 15th April, a day before you replied.

It was a great day for customer service, beginning with a visit from my postman. I missed a delivery on the Monday, and my parcel had been deposited at my local depot for collection. That depot is a four-mile round trip, and I usually make it on foot. My postman cannot possibly know that. Nevertheless, he did me a turn, and brought the parcel with him the next day in case I was home. I was. What a nice man, to save me that hassle. A rare display of exceptional customer relations. In addition, and again unknown to him, the parcel contained a trio of alarms – two smoke, one carbon monoxide. I ordered these after my good friend and next-door neighbour was nearly gassed, prompting me to finally get round to investing in this basic life-saving technology. So, to reiterate, the Royal Mail employee really did do me a favour, on a couple of counts.

My second encounter came with a visit to the local branch of a government office. How helpful the woman was! Although ostensibly there to enforce rules, we struck an easy rapport and discussed everything – from the failing policies of this unelected Tory government, to the Orwellian use of language in the way they now use nice names for things which are essentially draconian. We discussed the merits of Scottish Independence – I am strongly for it, to the point that I will be distraught if we do not obtain it, while she is undecided. To my mind, every “Maybe” is a Yes in need of just a handful more facts or just a little more easily-discredited Better Together bullshit. This country can be great, and I am voting not for a politician or a party, but for my country and the people in it. It is beyond evident that Westminster rule does not work for us.

I wondered if it would be possible to achieve the customer service hat-trick, and you were supposed to be the third encounter. Unfortunately, my email had not received a response. I refused to let that deter me, I knew Bank Of Scotland could do it if it tried. When I enquired of your Twitter colleagues how long I should wait, their reply – and yours – was swift. Too little too late, I am afraid.

Since I was out and about on a rare day off, I popped into [my local] branch to see if they could help me in ways you have not. It was unbelievable.

I was scarcely over the threshhold before Jane – I believe that is her name*, I went back later to ask, with a view to including it here – materialised, appearing in front of me like an angel. Could she help me, she asked. I truncated the full length of our correspondence, [forename of addressee], to the simple issue that started it all – I would like my name changed in your system.

Being thorough, Jane asked if I had proof of the name I wanted on my account. In a fortuitous turn of events, I had my passport with me, and duly informed her of the fact. I was led quickly into a small office, to elaborate on my request. Admittedly, although I do not recall doing so I think there is a very good chance that I handed Jane my card. This enabled her to find my account in ways you have not had the means to. I still question how you claim to be unable to locate my account, given the relative uniqueness of my name, but I will skip this for now – in the same manner that you have avoided answering that and other questions up to this juncture.

Within approximately two minutes, and I suspect it may have been less, Jane had removed the offending “Esq” from my account name. As if that was not enough, she then checked a quick detail with me, asking “does your phone number still end [last three digits]?”

Now, [forename of addressee], I cannot tell you how gobsmacked I was. You told me my number was not up to date, and did not respond to my questions about that. Here, it turns out, your company has had my correct number all along! Your searching capabilities are underwhelming, Jane found that detail so effortlessly that it left me incredulous. In trying to fathom this unexpected change in events, I blurted out “are you kidding on??”

Jane, equally nonplussed by my failure to comprehend how simple this task had been for her, laughed with me as she assured me the matter was fully taken care of.

[Forename of addressee], when I began formulating this letter in my head, I planned to say – perhaps partly in jest – that you have let your company down. I now feel that they have let you down. Why have they not adequately trained you? What does Jane, possibly in accordance with other customer-facing staff, know that you do not? Why are the Bank Of scotland keeping you in the dark?

This entire debacle has highlighted a complete lack of inter-departmental communication within your organisation. For instance, with regard to my phone number, you claimed it was both indicative of a “different geographical location” and “out of date” and repeatedly requested it. Do you know what I realised? I provided it, via private Direct Message on Twitter, before you ever read my initial complaint. It should have been passed to you, and was not. However, in that same regard, you later claimed to be unable to find the very number which was immediately retrievable when I went into the branch.

Were you trying to fob me off? You told me that you could not locate my account, then instantly said the number you held was suspect. How did you find a number for me while simultaneously being unable to find my account? That is no small discrepancy, and I like to have things in writing in case of such contradictions.

I have been wholly unimpressed with your responses thus far. You contradicted yourself, failed to defend that when challenged, did not satisfactorily answer any of my resulting questions, and sent very staid replies despite my attempts to inject humour into what has been a very tedious episode.

Can you confirm that, when Michael Schumacher injured himself earlier this year, they induced his coma by giving him some Bank Of Scotland emails to read? Frankly, I put far more effort than was strictly necessary into this communication, and have been left thoroughly bored as a result.

I would take this further, if I thought there was any point. Congratulations, incompetence and drudgery wins to live another day. You fought the battle well, successfully defeating the customer by blindly ignoring his questions asked on the back of your own inconsistent statements. Well done. They will probably promote you.

Yours,

Jordan R.A. Mills Esq Esq Esq Esq Esq Esq

PS: I have published my first three letters to you online. They have totalled 118 views. If you want to get anywhere near the 5000 views I reached at the weekend, you need to be far more interesting or drastically increase your contentiousness. Your previous replies are so dull there is little merit in reproducing them. They would fail to set the world alight even if soaked in petrol and used as tinder.

PPS: If you can find an up-to-date, geographically accurate number for [my local] branch, you should call it. Maybe Jane will share some of her warmth and wisdom, and reveal to you how she was able to find my own phone number just by – shock, horror – looking at the same records you have access to.

*Jane is definitely not her name, I have changed it for publication.

In addition, I received a letter in the mail the day after I sent this, in which the complaint handler announced a stalemate and said he was closing the complaint.

 

 

 


The Work Programme And Me – 13 Pages Of Witty Hate

After being asked to provide feedback, I composed this letter. I expected no response, and so I wrote freely and for my own amusement/pleasure. I rather like the result, and it saw me invited to meet one of the bosses to discuss what changes could be made. They refused to pay me a consultant’s fee, though, so this is all they got. Well, this and two years of my life.

Dear Work Programme/Working Links/[Company name redacted]/Whatever organisation I actually attended,

You asked for my feedback. Make yourself a cup of tea and come back to this, it is going to be lengthy.

For a start, why have you asked for “customer” feedback? I am not a customer, I was forced to attend mandatory fortnightly meetings. By definition, as I did not purchase goods or services from you, it is incorrect to address me in this manner. Had there been any element of choice, be assured that I would have avoided your organisation like the plague it so often seems to be.

Your survey asks about the welcome I received upon first attending [company name redacted]. I remember this clearly, as my hobby is stand-up comedy and in the beginning I was provided with ample source material. Having been required to attend a computer course, the level of which ensured that I knew not to stand on top of the monitor while typing, I was treated to the sight of the man next to me drooling over his keyboard. Meanwhile, two of your staff members demanded to know of an Iraqi gentleman with poor English if he was in this country legally. Given that we were all referred as JSA recipients, a benefit (before that became a dirty word) claimed by having a National Insurance number, it would suggest he had gone through due process to be (mis)treated in this way.

My confidence in your staff waned swiftly, after the lead tutor (and my initial advisor) turned from one desk and walked fully into a pillar into the centre of the room. I am not convinced that slapstick is necessary or conducive to your role, although the distraction was appreciated. I am not inclined to trust someone to help me find a job if they are not even able to simply avoid smacking into the architecture of their surroundings.

After this shambolic introduction to your services, during which I had to fill in a form that asked for full detail of my circumstances but which limited me (as I discovered after twenty minutes of typing) to a few hundred characters – thus preventing me from answering the questions asked – I was referred to a CV-writing course.

Call me old-fashioned, but if you are going to employ somebody to teach me how to write an appropriate cover letter perhaps you could ensure that their spelling is up to scratch and in line with accepted grammatical standards. I am not professionally successful enough to refer to myself as “a writer”, yet I do write often and am frequently praised on my output (without wishing to blow my own trumpet, this is just a fact provided for background) – and so it was insulting to have my time wasted by a writing coach who could barely spell the term “CV.”

I have kept a blog for some years now, on which I documented a few of the more absurd or frustrating elements encountered on your programme, and I will provide external links to these articles rather than re-write them here. However, in brief, my feedback will include:
– Your inability to provide the training I most need and which would render me extremely employable.
– Frequent, positive talk of jobs that failed to materialise (painting a factory, window-fitting, landscaping).
– Being accepted for a job that I was then told I could not take (parks department).
– Being promised four months of work, which turned into seventeen days and thus cost me money (Royal Mail/Manpower).
– Having my advisor changed several times, and having to re-explain my circumstances repeatedly.
– The suggestion that I might like to attend something that I later realised was mandatory.
– Being coerced into working in your call-centre under the guise of being “trained.”
– Having my ILA courses booked, cancelled, and rebooked so often that I never used the funding available to me in the end.
– Having my time thoroughly wasted applying for a call-centre job for which I was not eligible.

Let us begin.

I learned to drive when I was eighteen, and was at a standard where I would have passed my test, as my instructor repeatedly told me. For one reason or another, I neither booked nor sat the theory test, and was therefore unable to sit the practical. Years later, when I realised how important my driving license would be in my chosen career, I sat the theory and passed it comfortably. Unfortunately, life intervened and I could not afford the necessary refresher lessons prior to taking the practical. Owing to its limited validity, I now need to take the theory test again.

Twice in my working life I have been in a position to pay for the few lessons and two tests it would take to immeasurably enhance my employment chances. The first time, I was hit with a backdated council tax bill for two-thousand pounds. The second time, I lost my job and was forced to use my savings to pay my rent.

From my very first day with your programme, and at every subsequent meeting and with every single advisor since, I have been asked what the major barrier is to my finding and staying in work. This is my answer, and it is always met with the same response – you do not fund driving lessons. Neither does the Jobcentre. I know this, believe me when I say that this is a conversation I have had easily a dozen or more times, and probably twice that. It turns out that I have a second major barrier to employment – your organisation.

My background is theatre. I have worked behind the scenes since I was fourteen, running shows from the legal minimum age of sixteen. It began as a hobby, becoming a paid hobby as I subsidised my everyday work with casual shifts, and when I decided to obtain a degree there was only one subject that interested me sufficiently to ensure I would put in the necessary work. I continued to work casually during my studies, later supporting myself with work in theatre, film, and television. My ambition, in my final year, was to obtain my own listing on IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. Having achieved that within six months of graduating, I now understand that I should have aimed higher.

[paragraph redacted]

My argument is that, by funding my driving license two full years ago, you would have spent more or less the same amount as you did on my case anyway, except that I would now be in a far better position to achieve and maintain employment. You have wasted your money and you have wasted my time. My advisors have told me that you used to fund it, or whatever else was required to get people back into work. It is disheartening to know that I am not worth the expenditure, and it is a sham that you ask what barriers are in the way of your “customers” finding work while effectively putting up a barrier of your very own.

The Work Programme is not about getting the unemployed into employment – it is about shuffling numbers.

There have been various moments of hope in the past two years, fleeting moments where your advisors have had information about work coming in and positively spoken of it.

I am available and looking for work. I was turning thirty years old when I was referred to you. This is, in theory, the prime of my life – I am still considered young, and about as fit and healthy as I am likely to be for the rest of my life. I did a degree in theatre, specialising in scenic carpentry, only to find that these skills are not easily transferable to the construction industry (itself in decline) as I do not hold any recognisable joinery qualifications. There was talk, at one time, of trying to obtain these, but your organisation would only go so far as to get me the most basic CSCS card, enabling me to be a site labourer. There is plenty of competition out there for site labourers, believe me.

I am educated, intelligent, diligent, polite, and good-humoured. Your organisation has no idea how to cope with this. I am no work-shy waster, I am desperate to be in employment, to be surviving off my own back, contributing to my country, and with my confidence, self-esteem, and sense of purpose restored. This is useless. I am willing and able to undertake virtually any job offered to me, the only exception being jobs to which I am not suited. I am not sure how much wider my scope could be, and yet in twenty-four months you managed to find me a mere seventeen days of work.

Please do not get me wrong, there was plenty of talk of jobs. There was the taken-over car factory/showroom that needed a complete repaint. There is a subtle pronunciation difference between carpenter and car-painter, but I was happy to overlook that. Despite my asthma, and the known irritant that is paint fumes, I was willing to do the job on provision of respirators and other appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). It came to nothing.

When I was given my second or third advisor, he guided me through a complete overhaul of my CVs – I have two – and rang me up one day, all excited that he had found a window-fitter loooking to take someone on. This client wanted somebody with knowledge and skills, was willing to train them in all aspects of the job, had steady work lined up, and specifically wanted somebody a bit older – perhaps aged thirty – who would treat this as a career and not as a way to kill some time in their late teens. It sounded perfect, and was certainly talked up to be so. This positivity continued for approximately five weeks, before petering out exactly as the painting job had done.

Most recently, I spent six weeks dreaming of a job landscaping in and around Glasgow. There was a group overview from the employer, individual interviews, and then – nothing. Weeks and weeks of nothing. I later overheard that the employer had taken a contract with one firm, and then tried to avoid using their staff/clients. I can only presume that negotiations broke down somewhere, or that he was unable to provide the promised employment to the sixty or so of us who attended the overview session.

The Work Programme is a purveyor of false hope. It is very hard to be enthusiastic at the prospect of some new job that yet again fails to materialise. These are just three examples, the most memorable ones, indicative of the impotence of your organisation. You are very good at making empty promises, and little else.

On one occasion, one of these jobs actually transformed into something almost tangible. The council were recruiting for their parks department, on a strict six-month contract. Not ideal, but it was a start, and as I have stated I am prepared to do just about anything for apppropriate financial remuneration. Working in the parks in summertime? That would be, well, a walk in the park. I am not above picking up leaves and emptying bins. Provided with the right PPE, I would do more than that.

All went well. I was given the description and the application form. The group session was fine, as was my interview, and everything looked to be in place for the start date. I had filled in the medical form, giving details of my asthma and hayfever since those may temporarily affect my ability to do the job. Both are controlled with medication, and I was not unduly worried that it would prevent an offer of work forthcoming. I also noted that, in my teens, I had had a problem with my knee.

[paragraph redacted]

When I say that I walk everywhere, I mean that I walk everywhere. Shanks’s Pony. Having lived in Glasgow for nine years, I know my way about. My feet are cheaper and often faster than public transport, especially in the centre of town at rush hour. I currently live four miles from the heart of town, and I regularly walk home – it keeps me vaguely fit, it gives me thinking time, and it allows me to avoid the overpriced fares, slow maneouvring, and BO stench of public transport. I know all of the landmarks on the way, and can make it home in forty-five minutes or an hour.

This was of no interest to your organisation, who dismissed my application out of hand on the grounds that “the job involves a lot of walking and bending.” I had no opportunity to plead my case, although I asked to do so. It seemed, and seems, ridiculous to me that – in the interest of full disclosure – I managed to lose a job based on something that affected me seventeen years ago. There have been no recurring problems, no adverse side effects, and although it was over half of my life ago, I felt it best to be honest. The more I see of the world, the more I discover that honesty is rarely rewarded.

The Work Programme, it appears, will use the flimsiest pretext to keep somebody on their books. Whatever your motives might be, you would not allow me to appeal against the decision to not employ me – even though I was fit for the job, willing, and capable.

To your credit, you did find me work once. Unfortunately, it was an absolute farce that ended up costing me money. You claim ignorance and innocence, of course, and I cannot prove that you knew the full details – but somebody did, and we were stitched up properly.

The agency Manpower were recruiting on behalf of the Royal Mail, looking for Christmas staff. The hoops were all jumped through – meetings, application form-filling sessions, interviews, all the usual. As is standard, start dates were promised and changed, hopes were raised, postponed, dashed, and then finally – miracle of miracles – a contract was signed.

Throughout, your advisors assured us that this would be a few months of work – starting in November, and ending around March. Perfect! Four months of guaranteed work, regular hours, steady wages. Chance would have been a fine thing.

Off we went, me and (conversations revealed) a dozen or more others all from the Work Programme. In came the mail cages, lined up in neat rows, and the sacks were emptied. Small parcels were sorted into first and second class, with additional cages for foreign mail and bulkier parcels. There was a high turnover of work, a fast-paced environment where any delay caused congestion and build-ups as more lorries arrived and were unloaded.

It had been drilled into us, through you, that the best way to be kept on was to keep our heads down and work hard. I wanted to be kept on. Very quickly, I stepped up and began emptying the front cages in the row, into the sorting trays for others to separate, removing the empty cages and replacing them with full cages from behind. I ran the risk of being told to get back to doing the same work as the others, but instead I was instructed to continue. My job, then, became to keep the work flowing for everybody else – often I was left unattended, relied upon to shuttle cages around neatly, quickly, and efficiently. I emptied front cages, replaced them, and broke them down, before returning to do the same again. Every night I broke sweat, a fact regularly commented on by my supervisor, and I noticeably lost weight while working there. I am not clear how much harder I could have worked. I was determined to prove my worth, and in truth I enjoyed the job and the responsibility.

The work tailed off as Christmas approached, and on Thursday the 22nd we were sent home early and told to await a phone call. On the Friday, an hour before my shift was due to start, I ended up calling the agency to find out if I had a job to go to, or not. The answer, given rather curtly, was not. This four months of work had ended after seventeen days, at zero notice, on Christmas weekend.

Do you know anything about the infrastructure of the Department Of Work And Pensions? Or how it relates to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit? You see, it is entirely possible that you can work enough to lose all of your benefits, without earning enough to cover your rent and bills. By the time I added up my earnings and took into account all of my outgoings, I owed my landlord just over a hundred pounds. It cost me money to work. And to work, as I have tried to demonstrate, remarkably hard.

Please remember, here, that “benefits” is not the bad word that the Conservatives and the Daily Mail would like you to believe. Housing Benefit in particular is available to those who are in work but on low-paid jobs, and if we were to stop and think about it then perhaps we would realise that work should pay enough to exist on without subsidy. Benefits, too, are drawn from the pool of money to which every person who has paid tax has contributed. We have all paid this money so that, in times of crisis or when there are insufficient jobs, we can claim some of it back and not be utterly destitute. It is a stop-gap, and I personally am angered that it is seen as shameful to briefly rely on a fund into which I have paid, and which I will pay into again once I find my feet. If we could get away from the propaganda for a minute, perhaps the truth would become evident.

The Work Programme expressed, or feigned, sympathy at my predicament. They had not known, they claimed, that the job would end so abruptly. It is my firm belief that somebody knew. Manpower could not have been less interested, although they did invite me to a meeting to discuss the issue. As it was one of their own who had been so ignorant and rude to me on the phone, I put little faith in their desire to actually pursue anything against him. My suspicions were correct, and the branch manager wrote to me on headed notepaper. As I was certain to get nowhere with it, and as she had printed her reply upside-down on the headed paper, I decided to write an entirely facetious letter of complaint. You can read it on my blog if you are interested.

The Work Programme, then, on the sole occasion it actually helped me into employment, left me financially worse off and more demoralised than I had been to start with.

This experience with the Royal Mail made me realise that my most recent advisor was effectively just a big drink of water, a streak of piss with no substance to him. Unbelievably, I was relieved to return to my original advisor, the one who had walked into a pillar on my first day there. We had spent much of the time since at loggerheads, until she miraculously revealed herself to be human after all on the back of this debacle.

We found a new understanding, something almost akin to friendship insofar as two people on opposite sides of your desk can be in any way “friends.” She sympathised, she almost empathised, and she changed tack. It is possible she now saw just how and why I feel so defeated by the entire process, and there was no hiding the strength of my desire to be in work and out of this situation. She enjoyed reading the very cheeky letter I had sent Manpower, and passed it round the office. In truth, that was the most that I had hoped to achieve with it.

She no longer works for [company name redacted], she left while I was in employment the second time. That was three months in a call centre which you provided no help in finding.

I have had other advisors too – the one who redrafted my CV for me and found the alleged window-fitting vacancy. You did not renew his contract.

There was the big guy that I have seen twice in two years, several months apart. There was the hard-faced woman who would not even given you the steam off her mince and tatties. There was the tall incompetent guy who had persuaded me about the benefits of the Royal Mail gig. He shrunk away quite fast after that, and has fastidiously avoided eye contact ever since. There have been various people who have turned up long enough to discuss specific jobs that have (of course!) never come to anything – one for the call centre fiasco (I will get to that) and one for the landscaping.

My most recent advisor has been comparatively helpful, revealing herself to be very human after a bumpy start. She sees that I do not need my hand held, and that this string of incompetence and falsely-raised hopes has coloured my vision of you and all who work for you.

The first time we met, she asked – as so many before her have – about my background, qualifications, and why I felt I was not in work. I asked her if she was joking, adding an expletive that I shall not include here for fear of undermining my point. The pair of us were stand-offish from the beginning, her wanting to know why I was being so sullenly defensive, and me demanding to know why she did not just read my file, which must surely by now contain every last detail.

Slowly, I began to explain everything that I have detailed here so far, and she accepted the reason for my demeanour. Once we got past that, we developed a healthy working relationship, although I am fully aware of the irony of using the word “working” here. If I was working, I would never have had to speak to her nor attend your utterly worthless organisation.

The Work Programme is a great place for meeting new people, and then being forced to explain your entire life story to each of them in turn – even to the ones that you only see once. If i ever see a job vacancy advertising for somebody to be a parrot, I will apply. You have given me a great deal of experience in repeating myself.

One of my many temporary advisors went to great lengths to make a local job fair seem appealing. He told me how wonderful an opportunity it would be, and I suspect that he could see my cynicism. I am past being able to hide it well, especially not within the walls of your office.

Credit to him, he was brilliant at selling all of the points and making it sound like a helpful and useful thing. Unfortunately for him, I did not appreciate his subterfuge and he had to resort to telling me explicitly that it was mandatory. I will not go into further detail here, I wrote a couple of blogs about it.

The Work Programme is a place where advisors try to disguise the compulsory nature of its role by making it appear like they are doing you a favour.

Another bone of contention with my original advisor came at the point when I was instructed to attend a fortnight of training in your call centre.

The training facility is in a place most accurately described as the middle of nowhere. It is a secret location reached only by taking two buses, in the kind of area where you can watch a man enthusiastically punching another man’s head in broad daylight. Once you alight from the bus, and walk a mile in the wrong direction, you will find a petrol station. Upon entering, you will be asked if you are looking for the [company name redacted] training centre, a sure sign that everybody follows the same route. A signpost would not kill you.

Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that I would be doing a few days of training, followed by five weeks of taking calls. This sounds less like training and more like work. My argument, and I did argue, is that if it looks like work and it feels like work, then it is work and should be paid at a legal wage. Forty hours a week for seventy pounds does not equate to anything close to the minimum hourly amount set out in law.

While I was debating this with my advisor and with my trainer, I received a phone call from a friend (and sometimes casual employer) who posited that, instead of working for the Work Programme for nothing, I could go and work for his company for nothing instead – and at least be in the industry that I trained for.

This is a problem in my industry, everybody wants you to break your back in return for “experience” because it “looks good on your CV” – neither of which pay the bills. I did my time in that capacity, as did virtually every student on any kind of technical theatre degree. You quickly learn that the only thing it is good for on your CV is showing that you will work for nothing. Experience shows that, the less money that is involved in a given production, the more hassle you will have to put up with. Therefore, I decided a long time ago that my skills, knowledge, and experience are worth something. I do not work for nothing, be it for a call centre or for a chancing mate.

These points, eloquently put, convinced my advisor that the call centre was not for me. In the end, I found a job in a call centre of my own accord, and without mention of this episode.

Around the time I was removed early from your training programme, [details about a potential job offer redacted] It would be full-time, permanent, and paid at ten pounds per hour. It sounded ideal, not least because permanent jobs rarely turn up, and it offered everything that I wanted in a career – my industry, in an established firm, with job security and plenty of variety. There was, of course, one catch. It was being created using the Commonwealth Jobs Fund.

I did not meet the criteria to apply for a job that was virtually created with me in mind. The funding they applied for had an upper age eligibility of twenty-five, and I was thirty. I asked my advisor to check for loopholes, I called the council to find out if there was any leeway, I even wrote to my local MP to see if he would intervene. He did not reply, the council refused to consider my plea, and my advisor ran out of options. The job went to somebody else. He still works there.

My advisor’s best solution was to suggest that I go in to the office, speak to them in person, and offer to undercut the wage they were offering. The funding required that the position be created and paid at a living wage, the company were offering more than that, and I was advised to go in and say that I would accept less than the obligatory amount required by the funding small print.

This is the Work Programme, where my time and abilities have no value. The Work Programme, who could not help me to obtain a job that would have seen me in steady employment for the rest of my working life. A job that I was crying out to be allowed to merely apply for, but which I was denied by bureaucracy. The Work Programme – utterly impotent when it comes to having any say in anything that might have offered me a way out.

The problem with having so many advisors is that, among other things, they gave conflicting advice. I am entitled to ILA funding of two-hundred pounds, which I can use for one of a variety of courses.

What these courses are is a mystery, the website would let me search if I knew what I was searching for, but had no option to see what was available. There were no affordable joinery or welding qualifications, and I was told that upholstery was too niche (and again too expensive) for it to be viable. It was recommended that I get my CSCS card. This was duly booked, and cancelled, and booked, and cancelled again.

Later, I was informed that I would only be eligible for the most basic CSCS card, which would allow me on site to be a labourer and nothing else. To be a joiner, I would need to apply for another (or a different) card. I do not possess the joinery qualifications for that, and was dissuaded from acquiring the basic card as there is no pressing need for another entry-level site labourer in the construction industry.

Another advisor figured that I should apply for my SIA badge, and look for security or door work. He told me that it has a respectable number of vacancies just now, and that makes sense to me – as more people have less money, crime is bound to increase, and it seems logical to hire people to guard your property if you have it. I actually tried to apply to join the police, figuring that when the rioting starts I would prefer to be on the side with the weaponry, but as that industry is suffering from cutbacks and seeing the amalgamation into one unified force, they were not hiring at the time. I also considered the fire service, but my asthma makes me a liability.

With conflicting advice as to what would actually prove useful for me, and with interruptions as I left to work for seventeen days or when members of staff departed for pastures new, my ILA funding remains unused. I am still no clearer as to what I should use it for anyway. There was once talk of some new brewery-sponsored hospitality management thing. However, as so often with the Work Programme, it remained just talk. It never transpired into anything even vaguely approaching useful.

Speaking of massive wastes of my time, the one thing you are truly outstanding at, I think the pinnacle was the three hours you killed for me earlier this year.

I spent the last quarter of 2012 working in a call centre, a job which I sourced, applied for, and got, without your help. Unlike your call centre, this one was willing to pay me at the rate demanded by the government. I signed off, and went to work. It was a joyous time, the sun rose every morning and lit the world in a bountiful feast of colour. Birds whistled gaily overhead, small children skipped and laughed in the streets,  and there was good cheer throughout the land. The girls were pretty, the guys were handsome, the food never tasted so sweet, and everything just felt right with the world. A general contentment settled upon me, and instead of simply existing I suddenly felt alive.

There is a small chance that I am romanticising here, but you get the gist.

I was amongst the first to be let go after Christmas. They took on in excess of six-hundred people, and could not sustain that level of employment. The company handle a lot of contracts, and a few months later I received a call from the Work Programme. An opportunity had arisen, and I was invited to attend your offices for a guaranteed telephone interview. There would, I was told, be an online aspect to the application, followed by the interview. It sounded simple, and easy. I gratefully accepted and headed in as arranged.

The online part, it turned out, involved filling in the appropriate form on the company website. Had I known, I would have done this in advance at home. I object to being made to use your computers, as I am reluctant to enter any personal details without knowing how secure my data is. Furthermore, in the course of completing one form (as it happened, the company had my details stored on file, all I had to do was log in and update my employment history accordingly) your computer system crashed three times. It was bad enough being forced to use your system, without having to suffer further by repeatedly waiting for the thing to reboot. A small mercy, I suppose, is that the majority of my form was already there for retrieval. Had I begun from scratch, I might still be there today, cursing the slow and unreliable nature of your terminals.

Having completed this aspect, and with my teeth now ground to a fine powder, it was time for a presentation. Hurrah, the Work Programme has discovered Powerpoint! Having emerged raring to go after submitting the form, I was instead treated to thirty minutes of the most tedious and uninspiring slides, described in monotonous detail by an advisor I had never previously encountered. He took my enthusiasm and deftly eroded it with pointless facts about the vocal cords, body language, and an illustration of the brain stem. Quite why this key part of the central nervous system was pictured is beyond me – I associated it in my head with Chris Morris’s brilliant satire “Brass Eye” and imagined that I was listening instead to Noel Edmonds describing the part of the brain called Shatner’s Bassoon. If you get that reference, you will know that Cake is a made-up drug.

When all of the energy had been unceremoniously drained from me, and with no acknowledgement that I had passed a telephone interview for the same company a few months previously, it was time to be interviewed. All I had to do was wait for twenty other people to be interviewed ahead of me, averaging ten minutes per call, and with only two phones available. What could be easier? Or less exciting? Good thing I was not in a hurry.

The advisor, another newcomer, took the phone from the person before me, and guided me along a corridor into a private room. He spoke to the interviewer, wished me luck, and handed me the unpleasantly greasy communal mobile.

The interviewer took my name, confirmed that I had worked for the company before, and accessed my file. She relayed the information visible to her – next to my name, where it asked “rehire?” it said “no.” Thus began my very long walk back to find the advisor, to present his confused face with the phone. I was as delighted as I am now being sarcastic at having so much of my afternoon wasted. A little advance research could have saved hours of our time, and saved you the cost of my travel expenses. What is four quid, though, if it keeps me occupied for half a day and permits you to check off the necessary paperwork?

I am no clearer as to why I was refused employment with them, by the way. To find out, I need to put my request in writing and post it to the operations manager. Rather than highlight myself in this way, I will continue to live in ignorance. My boss only ever spoke to me to praise my performance, with relative frequency and without prompting, and so I am confident that I conducted myself in a satisfactory manner. It must be some clandestine company policy that prevents me from reapplying so soon after being let go.

The Work Programme provides computers that are slower than a week in the jail, and which crash more than the average joyrider. The unnecessary (in my case) pre-interview training would render the most alert man catatonic, delivered as it was by an advisor unafraid of maintaining a speaking drone that failed to change in pace, pitch, or tone.

This is where I envisaged ending what has hopefully been an enlightening, if not altogether positive, insight into the Work Programme. However, there has been a development in the days since I began composing this essay.
I received a call on Friday, from another unknown advisor, alluding to some joinery work that has come in. The Hydro is behind schedule, and this new national venue requires carpenters immediately. It cannot open its doors as planned if those doors are not yet hung.

I was instantly wary, having observed and suffered so many pitfalls before now. He tried to allay my fears: it would not matter that I am not carded, no CSCS is required; I do not require a driving license, provided I can get my tools to the site; it is full-time paid work, for a few months.

I have zero faith in your staff or in their ability to actually find or help me into employment. However, I am in no position to turn down work, regardless of how unlikely it is to transpire. I agreed that he could pass my number on, listening to and then obeying his instruction to keep my phone switched on and nearby for the rest of the day. Unsurprisingly, the call never came. It never came on Monday either. I will chase it up on Tuesday, but I will not hold out much hope. Having singularly failed to help me while I was obliged to attend the Work Programme, logic dictates that you are even less likely to be of use now I have left.

I find it difficult to believe that a venue as high-profile as the Hydro is willing to take on emergency staff not in possession of the relevant safety qualification. [Edit: they weren’t. I was misinformed, unsurprisingly.] If they are, then it begs the question as to what purpose the thing serves in the first place – “you must have a safety card, unless we are pushed for time.”

My inclination is that this work will be uncontracted, with joiners booked on a week-to-week or even day-by-day basis. This is at odds with how the DWP operates – to sign off is a huge gamble, if there is no guaranteed number of hours per week. Work too little, and you cannot pay the bills. Work for just a fortnight and there is a chance you will end up losing three weeks of Housing Allowance. I have been stung twice before, once of my own accord and once with your help. I am unwilling to risk being stung again – I am unable to afford to live as it is, without accruing further debt and arrears.

I chased up this offer of employment, but my advisor could not tell me who had called me, and insisted that you do not have any contracts with The Hydro. She promised to investigate, aware of all the concerns I have listed above. It proved to me that I was correct to no longer raise my hopes on the back of anything you tell me. You have never achieved anything on my behalf.

To conclude, this has been the feedback you requested. It details, or addresses, every complaint that springs to mind when I think back over the past 730 days during which we have been acquainted. Two full years of empty promises, false hope, incompetence, ignorance, and downright inconvenience. I leave in exactly the same position as I started, only more bitter and jaded. You have achieved absolutely nothing, in my interest at least. You have wasted your money, you have wasted our time, and, since that first day when my future advisor walked into the pillar, nobody has even had the good grace to make me laugh.

I doubt that you will reply to any of this – for a start, it is going to take somebody an afternoon just to read it all. There is nothing you can really say anyway, save for a stock response about “taking my feedback on board.” If all you have is a stock response, please do not send me it.

Oh, your questionnaire asked, if I recall correctly, how likely I am to recommend the Work Programme to others. Not at all likely.

Not at all.

[me]
Glasgow, August 2013

References, listed on embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com

Losing the parks job: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/hello-world-you-are-absurd/
An overview of the Work Programme: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/the-work-programme-doesnt-really-work/
Mandatory jobs fair attendance, and driving license funding: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/free-to-do-as-youre-told/
Why the jobs fair was useless: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/further-down-the-spiral/
Follow-up post about G4S and the jobs fair: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/the-work-programme-still-not-working/

 

 


Creative Correspondence – A Reply.

My previous post detailed a letter of complaint to my local supermarket, written principally for my own amusement and regarding a sandwich I bought which turned out to be stale. They replied with a cut-and-pasted stock response, which led me to follow it up with this:

“Thanks for cutting and pasting a totally impersonal response. It’s a genuine shame that they don’t permit you to function as a human and compose a reply of your own. The very least I expected was an acknowledgment that my carefully-constructed letter had made you smile. Or not.

Thanks for the offer of a voucher. As you don’t have my postal address, I don’t see much point in you sending me it. Give it a shot, though – my name is reasonably unique in this part of the world – especially if you include my middle initials. Certainly, with only my name and general geographic area written on the envelope, finding my location will keep the Royal Mail busy at this otherwise quiet time of year for them.”

For that last sentence to make sense, you need to know that I wrote this in December.

It occurred to me that their Twitter account might be a better way of contacting them, in pursuit of a satisfactory reply. They quickly asked for my email address, which I provided. Then it all went a bit quiet.

supermarket DMs

Credit to them, their reply – which arrived yesterday – was well worth the wait. Once you have read my original letter, you will understand and appreciate this reply:

Thank you for contacting us and please accept my apologies for your disappointment with the response you have previously received from us and for the problems you experienced with the long awaited, greatly anticipated Meat Feast Sub Roll you purchased from us recently.

I do concede that from purchase of this roll, to the time of placing it into your fridge, it could not have degenerated in such a short time frame (unless your fridge was conspiring against you)!   

I assure you that I was most aggrieved to learn that you were unable to fully enjoy this roll as you had hoped and therefore would like to give you the reassurance that this will be addressed in store to ensure that we only sell the best quality products that please our customers and that we continue to maintain the highest possible standards.

I am so very pleased that the roll was safely disposed of in your rubbish bin (I mean your very nice bin designed to accept rubbish that has served you so well) and that no mishaps occurred whereby it was accidently dropped on a small child!  We would certainly not want to learn that you were up on manslaughter charges due to you innocently purchasing some lunch!

At this point, I would like to say that yes, I was most amused by your comments and your eloquent description of events certainly did make me chuckle to myself.

That aside, I am extremely sorry for the crushing blow you have been dealt and I am happy to send you a £10.00 voucher as a gesture of goodwill and in recognition of the time and trouble you have taken to bring this to our attention.   Rather than leaving the guesswork to Royal Mail, would you kindly provide me with your address details so that I can arrange for this to be posted out to you.

Thank you again for bringing this woeful tale to our attention and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Fair play, Morrisons. Fair play.

 

 


T-Mobile, Triggering Misery.

Account Number [redacted]

Dear T-Mobile/EE/Everything Everywhere,

I wish to complain about the service you almost provided while I was contracted to you, and the nightmarish circumstances you created when I tried to leave your shoddy excuse for a network provider.

Since T-Mobile merged with Orange to become EE, your signal is more accurately described less as Everything Everywhere and more as Nothing Anywhere. I complained about this lack of service on two or three different occasions in the past few months (via your 150 phone service – “press every number under the sun, and once you have a blister on your finger your call will eventually be answered by someone who is unable to help meaningfully.”)

I grew tired of being asked if I had an alternate number you could contact me on. I only have one phone, as it did not occur to me that your service would be so dreadful. Had it, I would have been sure to take out a second contract with another phone company, in order that you could reach me on it when my signal disappeared – as it frequently did, often in the middle of calls to you. I could invoice you for plasters purchased to cover my blistered number-pressing fingers, but I chose to waive those fees rather than speak to further incompetent members of staff.

I use the word “incompetent” advisedly.

It was confirmed in your Glasgow store that much of Greater Glasgow is suffering from poor coverage just now, as you are dismantling masts. Your shop monkey tried to take the edge off it by sympathising “even we don’t get much signal.” This was little comfort, as you may gather, and while I appreciated his attempt to sympathise it was sorely lacking.

To cut a long story short – the full version is a work-in-progress that will appear on my blog, in two or maybe three parts, with accompanying times, dates, and screen-grabs – after a dozen calls to you it was agreed that you would give me two options. Firstly, I could accept a fifteen percent discount, applied monthly until the end of my contract. My monthly bill never rose higher than twenty-five pounds, and I had zero signal to speak of. You would charge me (at most) £3.75 less per month, in return for which I could continue to suffer your appalling “service” for nearly another year? What a bargain! How about no.

Alternatively, you would release me from my contract early, having checked your systems and discovered that – yes indeed – Glasgow, the biggest city in Scotland and third biggest city in the UK, is not particularly well served by your network. That sounded far more appealing, given that you could not supply any kind of time-frame as to when your masts might actually begin working properly again. I was quickly given a PAC code, which I asked to be repeated to me as I knew how very difficult it had been to speak to somebody capable of issuing it, and I wrote it down.

At this time, having wasted three hours of my Saturday night trying to get enough signal to call you, and having been passed from department to department, I asked about the terms and conditions of transferring my number. It was explained to me, patiently enough as I made myself very aware of your procedures, that my PAC code (read and repeated for confirmation again) would be active for thirty days, and that my contract would not end until I used it. Failure to use it would see my contract remain unchanged. This seemed reasonably straightforward, and I made sure to equip myself with (I believed) all of the facts during this phonecall.

A week later, I found myself in Northern England. I went there deliberately, so it was no great surprise to find myself there. It was equally unsurprising to discover that your service/signal/network/coverage is just as bad down there. As I was there for seven days, armed with the PAC code that I had jotted down phonetically, and confirmed phonetically twice, I called into the shop of a nearby rival. Within an hour I had chosen a new phone and payment plan, agreed to their terms, and left jubilant that finally I would be able to receive calls as they were made. Hell, I could even send texts and browse online – all of the fundamental basics that you should have been supplying as contracted.

This other company informed me that my number would transfer within a few hours, maybe a few days. Four days later, I had to contact them to find out why my number had not been transferred to my new phone. The answer? You had given me an incorrect PAC code. I was condemned to keeping my old phone to hand for a longer period, until I would get back to Glasgow.

In the meantime – and really, bonus points for being utterly useless here – since being given my (evidently wrong) PAC code, you had begun sending me texts thanking me for signing up to T-Mobile. I received texts telling me all about your wonderful company which I had just left due to you not providing the service you were legally obliged to.

Once I returned home, I was met with written confirmation of my PAC code. It was different to the one I had been given verbally, and thus was not so much confirmation as new information. I duly gave it to my new supplier, who was able to use it and transfer my number accordingly. Shortly afterwards, I was able to use my existing number with my new phone, and for a brief spell all was right with the world. Then you spoiled it, as your ineptitude suggested you would.

I was sent a final bill, which contained a load of figures that seemed unwarranted. Rather than waste further hours of my life trying to contact you, and heartily sick of your inability to function anything like competently, I ignored it. I guessed that, if it was important, you would contact me again, and you did.

This time, in bold letters at the top of the page, you announced that I had an overdue balance. My account had now been disconnected from the T-Mobile network, you said, and followed “for your service to be restored, please pay the amount in full stated at the top of this letter.”

The quoted sentence is important. I did not want my service, such as it was, to be restored – and so I did not pay you any money. I did not trust you to not try and reconnect me, since – until this juncture – there was no acion on your part that instilled confidence in me.

You wrote to me again, three weeks later, an identical letter (save for the amount asked for) which opened the same way. Again, as I have no desire for you to restore my service, I did not pay “the amount stated at the top of this letter.” That said, as my hand had healed somewhat, I was willing to risk new blisters. I dialled your customer service number, and pressed all of the required keys to talk to one of your employees. She was very helpful, inasmuch as she was thoroughly unhelpful.

She went through my final bill, breaking it into its component parts. It includes a “notice period charge”, and she explained that it is the fee charged for providing me with a PAC code. I suggested I should be given a discount, since I was provided with an incorrect code and thus inconvenienced. In truth, I told her outright that I dispute that amount as at no point – during the conversation whereby I decided to leave T-Mobile – was I informed that I would be charged for doing so. It had been a lengthy conversation, given that I received my PAC code and confirmed it, while asking for all of the relevant information regarding the issuing and use of the code, and I am sure you can go back and listen to it for quality and training purposes.

I asked this new staff member for an email address, so that I could put this complaint in writing. Unbelievably, she told me that T-Mobile do not communicate by email, and I countered by asking which century you are operating in. Her argument, weak as it was, is that you prefer all complaints to be in writing and sent by post, so that you can keep them all in one place. As much as I refuse to undermine my argument by resorting to cursing, this sounds like complete bullshit.

She seemed to suggest that, rather than have my complaint sent quickly and directly, to be stored in as many locations as you wish to copy it to, making it instantly and easily retrievable, you would prefer that I type it, print it, affix a stamp, and entrust it to the Royal Mail. Perhaps your internal servers are as dubious as your network coverage? This is the only reason I can imagine which would necessitate the involvement of a postman to resolve this. Unless you have suddenly elected to support and reinvigorate the flagging reliance on their centuries-old infrastructure.

Once I thanked the girl for her assistance, having jotted down the postal address she furnished me with, I did as all modern-day endurers of appalling service do, and went online to register my disdain for your company. While there, connected to the internet by a rival company who manage to fulfil that contracted duty, I decided to find a number for your head office. I had hardly begun browsing your terrible website before a box popped up, inviting me to chat to someone. Here we go! I asked for an email address to make my complaint and – incredibly – it was immediately forthcoming, without hesitation.

tmobile

Why is it, then, that your advisors disagree on the methods of communication open to your customers? I resent being misinformed by the telephone advisor, only to be given the correct information online minutes later and without fuss.

Now, with the tools necessary to document my subjection to your poor standards and inconsistent policies, I could begin writing. I took my time, admittedly, since this is a lengthy complaint and one I wished to word well. The telephone advisor had said that she would make a note on my account, saying that I had called in and planned to discuss the amount you claim I owe. I was under the impression, perhaps misguidedly, that I had bought myself time to compose a letter worthy of all the hassle and stress you have caused me.

Today, 7th September, I received a letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Limited. You can guess the rest, I am sure, but my account has been passed to them. The next step is that I need to contact them and explain that I am in dispute with you, regarding the amount allegedly owed. I look forward to that chat, it gives me buckets of joy repeating the same thing to so many of your employees and associates.

I propose an alternate solution.

You can immediately waive the £[redacted] “Notice Period Charge”;
You can also dismiss the outstanding amount*, in lieu of the hassle and inconvenience of addressing your repeated failings and inconsistencies;
You can re-word the opening of your standard letter, so that it does not suggest that payment of final bills will result in reconnection to your service. I am prepared to give this advice free of charge, and shall not charge a consultant’s fee for recommending it.

You will note that I have appended an asterisk(*) after mentioning the outstanding amount. Here is why:

A letter from T-Mobile, dated 02/08/13, gives the outstanding balance as £[redacted].
My final bill, dated July ’13, and a letter dated 23/08/13, both give the outstanding balance as £redacted].
This letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Ltd claims that the balance due is £[redacted].

Prior to having spoken to them, I would expect you to clarify how much you believe me to owe your company. Although it is a moot point, as I stand by my request that you write off the amount in full and with immediate effect.

You are the worst telecommunications company I have ever encountered, unable to justify your existence or provide even the most basic of services. Not only is your network and signal provision a joke, but your staff repeatedly fail to corroborate the most fundamental information. Instead of chasing me for your mistakes, your finances would be better spent on improving your national systems and in administering training.

I anticipate a full response to this letter. Unlike you, I accept emails – although you may use Royal Mail if doing so truly is an altruistic act on your part. At the very least, I demand an explanation for your continued failings throughout this troublesome episode, and I would like it in writing (typed or joined-up) that I no longer owe you any money.

Thank you for making me waste another few hours of my life documenting all of this, yet again.

Yours insincerely (apart from the bit about waiving any amount outstanding, I am entirely sincere about that),

[me]


Giving Stupid Requests Due Consideration.

There is an automatic signature appended to a number of emails I receive. Some of these are generated by or originate from a dedicated Scottish theatre group on Yahoo, others come from different sources, but all carry a similar request. Specifically, they ask that I “please consider the environment before printing this email.”

Firstly, none of these emails has ever contained anything I have wanted to transfer onto paper and retain for posterity. Most of them get skimmed over and then deleted, and some of them don’t even get a cursory glance before I send them to the electronic tip. I’m not considering the environment before printing them out, I am considering whether the sender has included any relevant information that moves me to keep hold of their words. So far, never.

As an aside, it has just occurred to me that maybe the sender knows the mass email they are sending out contains little of value, and that’s why they attach a request asking you not to print it out? “Hi, there’s nothing worth reading in this, so please don’t keep hold of it.”

Anyway, my main point is this: what harms the environment more – the printing out of one email, or the technology required to write, transmit, and store that email?

I just think it’s a bit short-sighted, as though refraining from using a sheet of paper, some ink, and a bit of electricity will somehow offset all of the electricity used to run computers at both ends, the servers and telephone exchanges in between, and in the manufacturing process of all the necessary elements.

A better, and more appropriate, message to end on might be along the lines of: Please switch off your computer and continue this correspondence by post.

That way, you’ll be using less electricity, for a start, and utilising the exisiting Royal Mail infrastructure to contact people far away. Hell, if enough of us do it, maybe it will result in job creation, as demand for their services increases.

Until then, though, keep pretending that it is abstaining from printing your memo that will save this doomed planet.

 

 


The Work Programme Doesn’t Really Work.

On the face of it, The Work Programme seems a good idea – an initiative set up to help the long-term unemployed find work. The problem is, there are too many people out of work (the figure just rose by another 28,000) and not enough jobs. Companies that aren’t cutting back on staff numbers are instead largely cutting back on hours and terms of employment. The benefits system isn’t designed to cope with zero-hour contracts (no set hours per week, so you can end up doing sixty one week and none the next, or anything in-between) and if you work over sixteen hours a week your Job Seeker’s Allowance gets stopped. That means casual work is out, as is anything part-time that works out at more than two days a week. Even being in work doesn’t pay.

Personally, I’ve been told that I need to be looking for full-time, long-term work for it to be financially viable to sign off the dole. If anyone knows of any full-time, long-term work that is even being advertised (let alone attainable) you’re in a better position than me. There is an undeniable stigma attached to being unemployed and claiming benefits, even though an increasing number of people who have worked their whole lives paying into the system now find themselves at its mercy. It’s just been announced that the Work Programme is taking on everyone that gets released from jail in the UK. So we are in good company, at least. Those of us with degrees, who have worked and will work wherever and whenever it is available, are now at the same societal level as ex-convicts.

My own experience with the Work Programme, well, I could fill a book were I inclined to post all of my personal affairs publicly. They are set up to get people into work, and so far, for me, they have found the following:

– 6 weeks call centre training, which quickly became five days training and five weeks answering their phones, unpaid. I refused, on the grounds that if it sounds like work and looks like work then it is work, and should be paid at the minimum wage or higher.

– 15 days with the Royal Mail, which earned me enough to lose my benefits, but didn’t pay me enough to cover all my outgoings. That full-time, short-term work left me financially worse off.

– 6 months cleaning Glasgow’s parks, a job that I lost before I started it after they read my mandatory medical history form and decided the problem with my knee, that bothered me 16 years ago, meant I was unfit to do a job involving walking. Despite the fact I walk everywhere, literally for miles to get home, and have no other means of transport.

There was one job came up in that time in my industry, a job that I found (or it found me), a job that I have dreamed for years of doing. It was created with specific funding though, the criteria of which meant I couldn’t apply, as I graduated “too long ago.” I appealed to the council funding department, who couldn’t do anything as it was taxpayers money and they had to be accountable for it. I emailed the council directly, pointing out that I’d be less of a burden on the taxpayer if I was in full-time work and paying taxes. There’s so few permanent jobs in my industry (theatre) anyway that if you find one within the specified two years of graduating then you’ve either been damned fortunate or have left to work in a call centre. They didn’t reply. I emailed my MSP too, making the same points, but all I got was a “thanks for contacting me” auto-response. Six weeks later, having heard nothing further, I emailed him again to tell him he’s lost my vote – and didn’t even get an auto-reply.

The Work Programme have broadened my search criteria, with my full consent, to include carpentry, joinery and general construction work, and I’ve been looking at jobs proof-reading and other similar roles too, based on the fact I read a lot and write quite well – if not always concisely. Their latest tactic has been to give me the address of a website to visit, where I am asked eighty questions about the kind of things I would enjoy in a job. Using my answers, the site lists the roles for which I am best suited, and it has been agreed that I will go through their suggestions looking for career-change options that might be viable in the current economic climate. So what was the outcome?

I am told, by this website that will succeed where they have failed, that I am best suited to working in:
– Music, dance, drama and theatre technology
– Building technology, furniture making, construction crafts, mechanical and manufacturing engineering (including fabrication and welding)
– Printing, publishing, graphic design
And
– Museum work, cleaning and related services.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen – after several months, a few false starts, and the intelligence of this website, the jobs I am best suited to (according to the Work Programme) are the ones I did my degree in. Uncanny! I’m also suited to construction work and in printing. So what have we learned from this? Yes, that’s right, the Work Programme is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. Certainly for anyone halfway educated.

Given the state of those three industries, and their reliance on temporary freelance workers, I will now be looking for any full-time jobs that become available which offer the chance to clean museums. Apparently that is all that is left for me. Although, the construction options did tell me of apprenticeships that I “can apply for once you’re sixteen,” and I look forward to going back in time fourteen years once I figure out how.

In the meantime, now that I finally know which vocation to pursue, I would like to pass on that hope to the other 2,669,999 of you.


Letters Designed To Enlighten And Entertain.

I worked for Royal Mail for fifteen days in December, through a recruitment company whose staff were stand-offish and disinterested, and whose communication was sorely lacking. I made a formal complaint, they invited me to initiate a Grievance Procedure, then wrote to me detailing the outcome of their “findings.” I had the right of appeal, and exercised it. Figuring that I’m unlikely to get anywhere with them, I responded with satire. I’m still waiting for a reply, but here is my letter to them.

ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED, ADDRESSES REMOVED, AND SOME PERSONAL INFORMATION REDACTED.

Regional Operation Manager,
Manpower UK Limited.

Dear [REDACTED],

I write to appeal against the outcome of my recently-held grievance hearing. My purpose in writing to your head office in the first instance was to avoid dealing directly with the branch I hold my grievance with, in order to avoid bias in their handling of the situation. The response I received by post today is heavily biased, with seemingly unfounded assurances, incorrect information, and printed so hurriedly that one page of it is upside-down on your headed notepaper. I think if Charlotte had taken my complaint in any way seriously, bearing in mind the reason for the grievance was the aloof nature of one of her staff members, she could have ensured she printed the whole letter the correct way up.

I understand that my “assignment with Royal Mail” was worded in such a way as to provide you with the ultimate get-out clause: that just because it was heavily implied over a number of instances that the job would last until March, it was not guaranteed to do so and is therefore perfectly acceptable that you let me go after just fifteen days. What I resent, and what I complained about, was the fact that I had to phone Eddie, with whom I’d had no prior dealings, on the Friday before Christmas to find out if I had a job to go to that day, or not. A little bit of communication wouldn’t have gone amiss.

His attitude during that phonecall suggested that, being the Friday before Christmas weekend, he couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough, and I was being bothersome by asking him questions about whether or not I had a job to go to. He told me several times that “everywhere’s shut for Christmas” and refused to acknowledge or even listen to the fact that I was scheduled to be in, which blatantly contradicted his statement.

When I went in to get my wageslips (which I found you don’t print and make available in hard copy, presumably because you can’t guarantee that they won’t be posted out printed upside-down or back-to-front), Eddie gave me my personal log-in details, and details of my pay, indirectly including my National Insurance number and without checking any form of identification. I saw this as a breach of the Data Protection Act, and he also gave me full contact details of one of your internal accounts department staff, which was contained in an emailed screenshot that he printed for me. That was printed on blank paper, so it’s impossible to gauge if it was the right way up or not.

Charlotte, in her letter, assures me that she “can confirm that Eddie did verify [my identity]…by checking [my] passport details at ID on file.” Firstly, the latter half of this sentence makes no sense to anyone who constructs their sentences in English, and secondly, she doesn’t explain HOW she can confirm this. I guess she asked her staff member, who works in her office, about whether he’d followed company procedure. Amazingly, he seems to have agreed in the affirmative, almost as if he’s aware that his boss is carrying out a grievance procedure. Again, this was why I didn’t want it conducted by the people he works with on a daily basis.

Charlotte also states that she “can not find any evidence to suggest that [Manpower Branch staff had a general dismissive attitude towards]” me – I’d like to know where she looked for evidence. Presumably she asked her colleague. With whom she works, in the same office, every day.

Finally, Charlotte apologises for “any breakdown in communication” that I feel “may have happened” and she “can confirm that [I am] now in receipt of wage slips and P45 as requested.” Earlier this week I emailed her asking where my P45 is, the one that was allegedly issued weeks ago and that should apparently take only ten days to come. She said then that she would look into it, but without replying further she can now “confirm” that I am in receipt of it. I will be if it ever arrives. This seems to show the same casual and dismissive attitude to my case as demonstrated by her colleague Eddie in the first place. This letter lacks any real attention to detail, and seems so rushed that she didn’t even put your headed paper in the correct orientation before printing it. Then posted it without checking it, or she would have noticed that she only got one of the two pages the right way up.

I feel I can paraphrase her response fully below:

Dear Mr Mills,
Eddie is a nice man, because he works for us. He may have lied through his teeth but – because he works for us – we automatically believe him. You were only ever a short-term employee and so anything you say is worthless and suspect, as you don’t work for us.
I’m sorry you wasted my time, here’s some empty answers rounded off with an incorrect assertion.

I had my doubts that initiating a grievance procedure would be worthwhile in any respect – I only attended because I was invited to do so, on a day that I was already in town anyway. This letter I have received reinforces my initial impression of your staff – uninterested, rude, dismissive, patronising, casual in their demeanour, lacking in attention to detail, and just plain wrong.

I would like to take this opportunity to sarcastically thank you, as a representative of Manpower, for wasting so much of my time. Not only did I end up in debt and rent arrears because of the full-time short-term work I did for you, and miss out on money (tax credits) to which I should have been entitled, I have also had to enter into correspondence with Manpower, [REDACTED – names of seven other government/local authority departments and subsidiaries], that has now dragged on for four times as long as the actual job (or “assignment”) lasted. And still it continues.

I fully anticipate that you will continue to toe the company line as regards my employment, or “Brief Distraction” as it would be more fittingly termed, and will protect your own staff over and above any complaints made by your casual and exploited temporary workforce. At this point, all I want from you is the P45 that I am NOT yet in receipt of, as soon as possible, and ask that you remove all of my personal details from your files – most importantly the copy of my passport that you allegedly possess for checking “at ID on file”, anything containing my National Insurance number, and my bank account particulars.

I trust that you will do this at the earliest opportunity and that, if you decide to respond to this, you will make sure you have all of the headed notepaper facing the same way before printing. At this point, that’s the least I expect.

Yours sincerely,

[Me]

PS: This letter will not self-destruct, but at this rate I might. Sixty-two days and counting, sorting out the mess created by fifteen days of employment.

– END –


Counter Service Intelligence

I had two encounters that amused me today, but you’ll need some background for the first one.

Prior to Christmas, I was employed by the Royal Mail via Manpower via the Work Programme. That sounds a bit messy, and it was. The job was meant to last until March, but lasted just fifteen days. There’s plenty more I plan to say about that in due course. Manpower’s staff and conduct were abysmal, so I made a formal complaint. This went to a grievance hearing, at their invitation, and the letter of outcome that arrived last week was very unsatisfactory in many ways. Feeling that they just don’t care, I wrote a letter to head office appealing the decision, but keeping my tongue firmly in my cheek. That letter will undoubtedly appear here once they have had the chance to respond – my wee sister read it and cried laughing. Today, though, I went to the Post Office to mail it.

The counter clerk, a wee Glesga Woman, took it from me, and asked if there was anything of value in it – vouchers, cheques, etc. I said no, only satire.

“What’s satire?” she asked, “Is that a flag?”

“No, that’s The Saltire.”

“So what’s satire then?”

“Sarcasm,” I said, explaining briefly the content of the letter and reason for sending it. She was happy to have learned a new word, and said she felt bad having to charge me to post it. I said that was fine, just so long as they don’t lose it…

 

From there, I went to The Co on the corner of Gordon Street and Union Street to pay a bill. They have the electronic voice thing that beckons you forth, and I was directed to Cashier Number Seven Please. Glancing up at the numbered LED displays above each till, it was obvious that they only go up to six. I took my chances, and went for the last till. When I mentioned the anomaly, the girl said “I know, I don’t know why that is.”

I asked if it was a joke, so they could stand and laugh at anyone stood scratching their head while trying to work out why they’d been called to the seventh till in a line of six. She laughed and said “Aye, that’s it.”

That was my entertainment for the day, not least because they both happened within minutes of each other. Sometimes I’m easy pleased.


Passports and the Royal Mail

I need to renew my passport this year. In a deliberately symbolic gesture, I planned to sign the form at the stroke of midnight on Hogmanay, as 2011 became 2012. The pen slipped, I went outside the tiny box provided for my signature, and invalidated the whole form. I kind of hope that wasn’t symbolic.

The second form arrived, and I finally got round to sending it away this week, having located a person to take the necessary photographs – I don’t trust those booth machines, I don’t trust myself to use those machines correctly, and you only get one shot at it for your money. I like having someone check I haven’t blinked at the crucial moment before I pay for them. Also, I firmly believe in giving my business to people and not to machines where possible, to keep folk in jobs. You’ll almost never see me use a supermarket self-service checkout for this reason. Also, because I’m a pretty genial fellow most of the time, and often like to engage in a little friendly and good-humoured chat with whoever has had to spend their whole day passing things over an incessantly-beeping scanner. God knows, when I did that job it was little witty exchanges that brightened up the day. Like the time I was supervising on a busy and under-staffed Sunday in a branch of now-defunct catalogue shop chain, and a short middle-aged man approached the Customer Service Desk to which I was tied. “Just a wee query,” he said, immediately adding “not me!”

That’s what I love about Glasgow – life’s always been hard, so most folk have a smile and a wee joke at the ready. Even the harassed shop worker or bank teller, disillusioned with their lot and silently enraged by the relentless stream of idiotic customers, will generally offer a tired smile or witty retort if you show them a little appreciation. In my local supermarket, they insist on asking if you want a hand with your packing. I always decline, but sometimes invite them to help carry it if they like. At Christmas, I got served by the woman whose hair reminds me of Karen Dunbar’s shopkeeper in “Chewin’ The Fat.” She asked, as usual, if I wanted a hand with my packing. “No thanks,” I said, “but you can help pay for it if you want.”
“Aye, I didn’t offer that,” she said.
“God loves a tryer,” I offered. As I spoke it, I didn’t have to decide then if it is spelled “tryer” or “trier.”
“I can barely afford to pay for my own,” she said. I think she probably meant it. These are tough times for us all. I just figure the world could use a wee bit more social interaction, and the sharing of smiles with strangers, rather than see us heading for the self-service till before going home to chat alone to people online, resorting to typing “lol” instead of actually enjoying laughter together.

Anyway, I took my passport form and photos to the nearest Post Office. I got called forward before I’d put two of them into the envelope and sealed it. “We’ve got a check-and-send service,” the girl behind the glass said hopefully, trying to “up-sell.” I told her it was okay, I’d read the instructions and trusted myself. She looked at me dubiously. I didn’t bother to tell her just how many times I read and re-read the instructions in the past two months. Even when I am absolutely convinced that I’ve done it correctly, I still have that quiet nagging doubt that I think affects us all. But, every time I read it it said the same thing, so I have hope. Well, had.

“Do you want to send it special delivery?” she asked. I told her I didn’t, I trusted the Royal Mail to get it there – since that is their job, by law. She looked sceptical to the extent that I asked how much more expensive it would be, compared to just sending it first class. There was about five pounds in it, and although this doesn’t sound like much, it is when you are skint and have just forked out eighty quid for the passport and seven for new photos that are so awful you’re only prepared to show them long enough, and to those necessary, to get out of the country. I declined.

Her attitude knocked me off my stride though, and now I’m worried – given my recent experience with the missing phone – that my old passport will go missing in the post too. I hope not, but I wish instead that I could confidently say “of course it won’t.” It just seems indicative of further failings in the service industry, that you used to post things first or second class and be able to predict – with reasonable accuracy – when they would arrive. Now you’re lucky if they arrive at all. The rational part of me wants to say she was just trying to bump an extra fiver from me, and that the level of service should be as expected and is governed by law even without it being tracked. Hell, my phone was tracked and it went missing. I can tell it’s going to prey on my mind until the new one arrives though, or doesn’t, as the case may be.

So thanks, bad-mood Post Office clerk, I had some good chat right before with the guy over the road who took my picture, even though he came across as surly for most of it, and you successfully killed my buzz. I’d refer to you as Little Miss Dismal, except that would suggest there was an element of cuteness to you, which was sorely lacking.