Part 2. by YWRC acting-Chairperson Melissa Goodman.
I am not a blogger, nor a writer, I am just a simply activist living my life and sharing a story with you. The story is not straight forward, but it certainly has its heroes and villains. In this instance the story is about work – things can get really messy in work spaces.
Part of the nature of being an employee is that your power is limited.
This is a deliberate action by management, encapsulated in a capitalist vision, to make you compliant to the demands that they place on you.
Basically, “bitches be holding you down”, and it’s to their benefit to hold you down for as long as possible. In some work contexts – not all.
The lower businesses can keep wages, the more profit; the more profit, the more power (but only for those at the top). Especially in the industries that I have the most experience in – those that insist on workers having the least amount of power possible, like retail and hospitality.
For example, sometimes you will be in work and your employer will show reckless disregard for safety. I’ve had times when safety equipment was not available, essential for the job and my personal safety, but denied to me due to the cost of the equipment and the employer not wanting to “waste their money” on things that they didn’t need “back in their day”. It turns out back in their day they didn’t need all their limbs and extremities. I tend to value mine!
Or what about this…
As a young woman I worked in a place where the levels of management were firmly set. This can be problematic when the person directly above you feels that they can exploit that power to abuse you…
Without going into too much detail there was a manager who would say very inappropriate things in private to a colleague of mine and when she ignored him, it got worse. She told me how he would look at her, how he would say things about her in private, and how when she went to the toilet he would hold the door open and wait for her to come back out again and follow her out. She was scared to bring it up with management, she was worried she didn’t have evidence, worried that she would be blamed – we know the story. We were young, vulnerable, ill-equipped and unsure of what to do next.
Have you ever been privy to employers/managers/other employees breaking the law and not adhering to minimum employment rights? Well I have. Its not a fun time.
I contacted HR in an attempt to resolve a breach of contract that my superior asked me to comply with. I called HR and explained the breach – I was shocked at the response; “oh that’s just standard practice” – wtf that was complete bullshit. It can’t be standard practice when it is illegal, right? Wrong. Sometimes organisations get into the habit of doing things a certain way, whether compliant with the law or not.
I was interviewing for jobs, I was prepared, I knew my stuff, I know the law and I know my rights both in an interview and as an employee. But I still got caught out. I was at an interview where the person asking all the questions, holding the power, decided that the way that I looked was not what she deemed to be acceptable.
Me, a woman, wearing pants, a black belt, a button up shirt, clean-cut short hair, and no make up apparently did not fit her “traditional views on how a secretary looks”. Legit! She told me that if hired I would need to wear a skirt and makeup everyday and that she might not be able to overlook my ‘short hair’. When I asked if she required the same of a man, she simply said well you are a woman and that is what is required of a woman.
So what do we do?
Seek help! Yep that’s right there are ways to cut the bullshit, but to do it action is required. And before we take ANY action we should seek advice.
Talk to your whanau, friends, colleagues, and don’t be afraid to seek answers to your questions. Make sure that if you are going to an interview you find out who will be there, if someone else can be present – feel free to use my example as an explanation for the request. Talk to your union or an independent service like YWRC.
There are always options, there are always ways to preserve yourself and not even one of us should ever have to put up with workplaces that put our safety, wellbeing, and dignity on the line.
If you think you are performing a job and you are unnecessarily exposed to risk. Seek help, seek advice, talk to someone about options in order to protect yourself and your workplace. No job that you are doing is worth your safety, worth harm to your body or mind, or your life. Sometimes we just need to stop and assess the risk.
Seek HELP! There are options, utilise them in order to make our employment experiences more positive. For many workers 1/3 of our lives are spent in work, that is time that should not be spent in complete anguish.
As employees we have more power than we know. Some cases call for action beyond the individual and sometimes an individual can have power. There are ways that you can find your power.
If you are struggling with work issues here are just a few resources that exist to help workers:
Young Workers Resource Centre
Employment New Zealand
Careers New Zealand
The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE)
Citizens Advice Bureau
Find your Union
Ask your employer if they have EAP!