There is a truly remarkable (to me) set of differences between my work here and in the USA. This is the matter of contracts and work conditions.
Here, at GPHQ, i have signed a contract, agreeing that i will work eight hours a week and be paid for that. They cannot schedule me for less than eight hours, and i do not have to work more, though i sometimes do. In America, at Big Al’s, an hourly paid employee, the equivalent of my position at GPHQ, had no contract, no set number of hours a week, no guarantee of permanence. What they had was the knowledge that they would work more than 32 hours a week, if they were full-time, or between twenty and thirty, if part-time. No one was asked to work less than twenty, as a rolling average (though a specific week might be less), unless they specifically asked for it, because of their particular circumstances. On the face of it, this would appear to be a win for the British method.
After all, a contract is a contract, one would think, and is a good indication of what working conditions will be like. Curiously, however, in my opinion, Big Al’s treats its employees far better than does GPHQ; all sorts of things happen at the latter which would not have been tolerated at the former, which, indeed, would have led quickly to lawsuits and financial penalties.
As an example, Big Al's was unbelievably picky about making sure that employees were paid for the time they were working. I remember, when i was training for an under-supervisor position, being forbidden to remove some of the training materials from the store ~ not because Elzevir, the manager, was worried that his competition would get hold of it if it left the building, but because he didn't want me to read it at home, when he wouldn't be paying me. At GPHQ, by contrast, we are frequently kept locked in until fifteen or twenty minutes after the end of business (the time we are scheduled to end working), unable to leave until the closing manager finishes paperwork ~ and naturally we are supposed to be on the floor ready to work five minutes before the start of the shift. Over the course of a month, this extra time could easily add up to an hour or more, five or ten pounds, were we to be paid for it. But we're not. Not only that, but recently we had to make a special trip in, after business hours, to attend a meeting for fortyfive minutes; i have no expectation of being paid for that, either.
At Big Al's even Grace, the worst manager i had, made sure that the hourly employees took the breaks they were entitled to. The company would have fired her if she didn't. Andrew, however, at GPHQ, neither assigns breaks in the schedule, nor does he speak to us to ensure they are taken. In fact, we almost have the feeling that to request a break (which we are certainly sometimes entitled to) is to cause a disruption to the day's business and, though tolerated, should not be done by the best employees.
I'm really not sure that having signed that contract i'm better off than when i worked without one.