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Chefs Jobs - Minimum wage

Not long ago, my renewed attempt to make a living on a freelance basis took me worryingly into debt and to the brink of disaster. I had to get a regular job - any job - immediately. After an interview that lasted 10 seconds, I found myself in the bowels of the Albert Hall in central London, about to start my first shift as a barman earning £5.60 per hour: 8p above the minimum wage.

I knew it was a miserable amount. What I did not know was that I had just begun a crash course in the poverty and exploitation of those trapped at the bottom of Britains pile.

In the small, neon-lit changing room lined with dilapidated metal lockers and full of staff putting on their regulation black, I was the only white British male.

Two tiny Chinese girls were huddled together in a corner, whispering. My supervisor, a 30-year-old West Indian with elaborately shaved sideburns, assigned me to the quietest of the bars in the concert hall.

It may not be the most highly skilled job, but theres a knack to being a barman. You have to be well organised and fast on your feet.

One of my coworkers, Pavel, is a 25-year-old Pole who lives far out in the suburbs, where he shares a room with his former girlfriend. I dont go to pub, to cinema, to shops, he tells me. I work, work, work, all day, all night. Im strong Polish man.

There are Brazilians, Mexicans, Filipinos. They come from everywhere, it seems, except Britain. Though they work nonstop, they are all desperately poor. Amala, 40, from Mozambique, doesnt travel on the Underground. She simply cannot afford it. The bus is cheaper. Her conversation consists of a series of sighs and laments, and my heart bleeds for this lost figure who lives alone in a bedsit on the fringes of London. Pavel has youth and energy. What does the future hold for Amala?

In the meantime, our employer - Leiths Catering, part of the Compass Group, is laughing. The Albert Hall has outsourced the running of its bars to Leiths, which employs a skeleton staff of supervisors and relies on a pool of dispensable casual workers. We might be asked to work just four hours in a day, or 12, or even 16. You never know - everything is always at the last minute.

Any idea that Leiths might care one jot for us was rapidly dispelled. Soon after I started, one of the supervisors called my mobile as I was on my way to work. This, he informed me, was a courtesy call to say I neednt come in; they were covered for the day. It was useless to point out that they had booked me, that I was halfway there.

Only when my first weekly pay cheque arrived, emblazoned with the company motto Great people, great service, great results, was I obliged to face the awful truth. After deductions for tax and National Insurance, I received £168 for 42 hours work - or a net hourly wage of exactly £4 (there is no overtime for evening or weekend work).

Lets do some simple calculations. For a four-hour shift I clear £16, minus £4 for the Tube. Thats £12 in my pocket. Include the time spent travelling to and from work and youre looking at £12 posttax for almost seven hours, or £1.70 per hour. Basically, Im working for free.

If I get back home late after 13 hours work, then I clear £48. Thats about £675 net per month. There is no way you can function as a normal independent adult on this.

Very rapidly, therefore, you become obsessed with money.

I am sitting in a pub, having a pint of bitter. Cost: £3. Thats almost one hours work, so I shouldnt be here. The food smells tantalisingly good, too, but of course it is out of the question to order any. Then a couple walk out, leaving a steak sandwich almost untouched. Thats £10 of food about to be thrown away. Two-and-a-half hours work. Id love to grab it.

But of course I cant. Even worse, Im thinking like a tramp.

And the same with everything else. A £2 cup of coffee is now a foolish extravagance; the cheapest £10 haircut is an issue; the new pair of glasses that I need are suddenly the stuff of dreams; and socialising - involving, as it does, the expenditure of money - is impossible, unless friends pay. As for Christmas consumption, the thought simply does not occur.

There are no two ways about it. This is akin to slavery. But at least the slave drivers of old had to house, feed and clothe their slaves.

I can feel myself becoming more scruffy by the day. Never in my life have I felt less like an alpha male, never less appetising as a prospect for any woman. I have given up the five-mile daily runs that used to keep me in shape. My love life is nonexistent.

And it is the same everywhere. The willing Poles who serve you in cafes, the countless others - mainly foreigners - who work in laundries and nursing homes and do the mundane jobs that keep our economy going. For all these, the standard pay is the minimum wage.

With surprising speed a vast underclass has come into being that lives a shadowy existence in a twilight world; invisible and yet in our very midst. There is no chance of a bonus, or of pulling off a nice deal. There are no freebies, no lazy days. Its just £4 or £5 net per hour, relentlessly. So they work 60 hours a week and try not to think too much.

This affects us all; its just that the invisible workers are the first to suffer. With the bottom of the job market swamped with cut-price labour, with unemployment at 1.6m, and competition for the better roles becoming more fierce, countless jobs that used to pay a living wage no longer do.

When the middle classes see that poverty is working its way up the social scale, that the prosperity they enjoy is an illusion financed by debt they cant afford, then the public mood may be far from festive.


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+ChefsWorld Tim Capper
Tags: Catering Jobs , Chef Jobs , Chefs Jobs , Chefs Wages

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