Friday, August 24, 2007


This is a landmark post. It's going to be the first blog entry I have made that directly criticises Food Place management. I'm perfectly aware that if the Food Place mafia (the security staff) ever read this blog entry, they'll know instantly that this blog is about our company. But I'm confident that I've been vague enough about my location that it can never be traced to me.


The New Time Management System
On September 23rd, a new system will 'go live' in all Food Place stores across the country that manages the working hours of staff. It's, basically, an upgrade of the system we already use that will tighten the grip the company has on how much it pays us - and when I say tighten, it beggars belief just how strict they are proposing to become. And I predict mass outrage about it.

The current system involves staff swiping their clock-card on a reader at the start and end of their shifts. The times these swipes are made are then used to calculate our pay. But it's changes to the 'rounding rules' that are going to cause major problems.

At present, we're paid in fifteen minute intervals, which means the system is already rounding-off our swipes. At the moment, the watershed is the midway point. For example:

You're supposed to work 12:00 - 16:00. You swipe on at 11:53 and swipe off at 16:08. The system will recognise you as having worked four and a quarter hours. In actual fact, that's exactly what you have worked, but the system calculates it slightly differently - you don't get paid for the fifteen minutes between 11:45 and 12:00 because you worked less than half of it. But because you worked more than half of the fifteen minutes between 16:00 and 16:15, it will pay you for that.

You can't say fairer than that really. Sometimes you're very slightly short-paid, but other times you're very slightly overpaid. So the overall effect on your take-home pay is minimal.

The new system
The rounding rules have been tightened in such a way that, using the above example, you would only be paid for four hours - despite the fact that you actually worked exactly 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Allow me to elaborate. The new system doesn't have a mid-way cut-off. To be paid for a 15 minute time period, you must work for every second of it. This means that any swipes after 11:45 will round off to 12:00. So let's examine the example again, but with different swipe times.

You swipe on at 11:46 and swipe off at 16:44. This means that you have worked for 4 hours and 28 minutes. Which, to any right-minded person, is four and a half hours. But to the Draconian swipe system, it is four hours! You worked 14 minutes at either side of your scheduled shift, therefore you didn't work for a full 15 minute unit and won't be paid for it.

Similarly, if you swiped off at 15:59, instead of 16:00, you would only be paid until 15:45.

What's right about it?
Before I launch into a tirade about why this is outrageous to me, I should show Food Place the courtesy of making it clear that I can see why they are tightening the rules. At the moment, there's a hell of a lot of employees taking the piss out of them.

When an employee is scheduled to work 12:00 - 16:00, this has been planned so that the employee is there to cover the period when Food Place has recognised there is work for them to do. Some people exploit the current swipe system by swiping in early and swiping off late. The company thus ends up paying lots of employees an extra half an hour each day. Spread over a month, I'm sure the amount of money that canny workers are extracting from the company is huge.

And the majority of those employees practising this method of pay-boosting aren't providing the company with the benefit of more work. Lots of people swipe early and then stand and have a good gossip until the time they're supposed to start. So basically, Food Place is currently paying a lot of people to stand and chat and they're quite right to be pissed off about it.

What's wrong with it?
Basically, they've tipped the scale so far in the other direction that it's going to actually deter people from working. They've gone to the extreme of being so penny-pinching that it only doubles the blow from the insulting rates of pay Food Place offers.

Can you imagine the struggle I'm going to face at busy times on the checkouts? No longer will anybody be willing to stay an extra five or ten minutes to help get the queues down before leaving. And quite rightly. I would refuse too. Why should I stay back to help out if the company isn't going to pay me for it?

Other problems are going to arise when it comes to 'finishing off' after the store closes each night. We currently schedule the evening checkout staff to finish at 22:10. By the old swipe system, this meant they got paid for the tidying-up and cleaning they did. But now, we're either going to have to eat into our stringent labour budget and keep them there until 22:15, or stop expecting them to clean up. I would never continue to ask them to work until 22:10 knowing they would only be paid until 22:00.

Which leads me to the other MAJOR criticism I have.

Food Place seem to be quite keen on keeping this 'migration' -as they're calling it - low-key. They don't want the staff to be formally briefed about it, although they've stopped short of telling us to remain silent. This is despicable. I've already illustrated how easy it will be to lose 15 minutes' pay. All it will take is for somebody to do that three times a week and over the course of a month they've lost 3 hours. To some of our part-timers, that's a whole shift. Some of them perhaps won't notice this - but many will. And it's going to be me that has to give them the bad news:

"Sorry Debbie, over the course of the last pay-month you deprived the company of 12 minutes of productivity by swiping off a minute early to go home. As a result, you've lost three hours from your pay."

Terry's attitude has disgusted me too. He says "bring it on". He's looking forward very much to the 'minute-grabbers' in our store finding their pay smaller than expected. Doesn't it just show that he's paid rather too much? Doesn't he understand? We're talking about people who are paid at just above the National Minimum Wage here. Lots of our staff live in very difficult circumstances. Yes, the system will rightly hit the deliberate con-artists who've been at it for years. But lots of genuinely hard-working staff are going to be short changed!

What about people working overtime to help out at short notice? Go back to my earlier example and imagine that somebody comes in and works 4 hours and 28 minutes to help us out - out of the kindness of their hearts. And the company neglects to pay them for the 28 minutes of honest work they've put in.

It's all wrong. It's far too strict. All it's going to do is cause bitterness, resentment and discourage people from working. If the big bosses view us workers with such contempt that they need to introduce an all-take and no-give system like this, then what hope is there for us? If they get away with this, what will come next? Incidentally, the briefing pack we were sent commented that 'scores of retailers' have already adopted this approach and it's been a resounding success.

Yes. A success for the company as they've cut costs by robbing their staff!


Al said...

The system you're currently using sounds very leniant so it probably did need to be tightened up a bit, but they have gone too far.

It's a highly inflexible system, what happens if the clock in the canteen, or someones watch, is say a minute slower than the system clock? They could end up losing a full 15 minutes pay through no fault of their own. (As an aside our canteen clock deliberately set fast so we're not late back from breaks etc.)

We get 3 minutes. That means if our shift is scheduled to be 11:30 to 20:30 we can clock on at 11:33 and clock off at 20:27 without losing anything. Anything outside of that (i.e. clocking on 11:35 or off at 20:25) and you lose 15 minutes. That is unless you choose to make it up at the end, in which case the system recognises that you've actually done the full shift and pays you accordingly. Constantly clocking off three minutes early however would earn you a meeting with the managers.

As for staying late or starting early that has to be authorised by your manager - if you clock out 30 minutes late you won't be paid unless your manager lets wages know.

I may have misunderstood you here, but your checkout staff are scheduled to finish at 22:10? Therefore they should be paid for that time anyway, regardless of whether or not it's a full 15 minutes past the hour. They can't schedule someone to work a shift knowing that they're not going to be paid for part of it (excluding breaks unless contracts state otherwise). Or is that just sort of an unwritten agreement between yourself and the checkout staff?

If you've got union represenation perhaps you should consider asking them to look into this.

AggressiveAdmin said...

I believe a good number of the people who already know about this system will go to the union about it - that's if they're members.

A lot of people in our store were very disheartened with the union a couple of years ago and left. When the store changed hands In December 2004, the new owners did everything in their power to flout the TUPE regulations that protected our existing contracts. The union did very little to fight our corner and ended up crumbling to demands. Before we knew it, our pay had gone down and our contracts were re-negotiated. We were definitely robbed then, but by the time it happened nobody had any fight left in them.

I can see the stink over this being huge, but I hope it's enough to push Food Place into reviewing matters. The system your employers use sounds like it would address all my complaints. It'd still be tighter than what we have now, but not so strict as they're planning.

AggressiveAdmin said...

A further thought, what happens at 12:00 - when we've often got 10 or more staff starting shifts in time for the trade gearing up in the afternoon? A queue of people waiting to swipe, you can just see that it's going to get to the 8th person and the time will tick over to 12:01.

James UK said...

What I find interesting is the way that they don't want it "announced" as such... as if they know it's not a particularly good or efficient system!

Sounds like it's going the Wal-mart way... :-(

AggressiveAdmin said...

What's worst about it is that it's a sudden change of attitude. The company has always been open about what it's doing and usually consults the staff quite vigorously before doing anything like this. Now they want to sneak this in.

The was a Q&A email sent out today that acknowledged our concerns and said the details had yet to be finalised. So it could change.

Al said...

That would suggest they know that these changes are going to upset a large majority of their staff. My company does that too sometimes, if it's something that is going to benefit us there's big announcements and everyone knows. If, however, it doesn't then there are no such announcements.

I hadn't thought of the queuing issue either, although the only queue you tend to get at my place is the queue of people waiting to clock out! There wouldn't be any way round that other than for everyone to make sure they were there a couple of minutes early, which they shouldn't have to do.