precair on Thu, 7 Apr 2005 04:33:38 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> flexworker interviewed by PrecairForum preparatory group

We were asked to post this onto this list.

**struggle & play**


This interview was done as part of a small inquiry into conditions and
attitudes of 'flexworkers', of precarized and flexibilised workers
who have zero-hour contracts, work through job agencies, or proceed
from one short-term contract to the next. According to some statistics,
the Netherlands (where we live) has been one of the pioneer countries of
the precarious labour market, and has fairly high ratio of precarious
jobs and part-time positions. The official union movement, at the same
time, has accepted most of these conditions as economic necessities,
sometimes because they consider them as a temporary thing, something for
young people and students; but actually, precarity is, increasingly, the
shared condition of many, and in those cases where welfare-state
guarantees do prevail, precarity is present as a feared and threatening
possibility.  We did these interviews as a way of preparing for a
workshop on flexibilised and precarious labour, one of the workshops at
the "Precair Forum", held on February 12th 2005 in Amsterdam. The
local networks created during the process of the forum are now involved
in organising an initiative for Euromayday (May 1st), as part of the
European transnational campaigns of struggles against the politics of
precarization and for new global social rights.  The interview was held
in januari 2005; for reasons of anonymity we have omitted the name of
the person interviewed, who is a she and lives in Amsterdam.

Of interest/further info:


What I heard was you were working in a callcenter and  you've been

Well, it's more than a callcenter. It's a telecom company that
provides cheap services, connections world-wide. It's a medium-sized
company andI work in the order department, I put orders into the
computer. It's quite debilitating work, really bad, like factory
work. It's modern factory work, because these are actually factories,
even if it's a glass-and-steel building. Yeah, I think we are
factory workers, the work is very monotonous, it's all the same.
That's what I do.

How long have you worked there?

I've worked there for two months. Basically I came there through the
uitzendbureau [job agency], the Undutchables, the one that always
recruits the internationals. They told me that I would be working as a
temporary worker, and basically it's a 520 hours contract with the
uitzendbureau, after which I can possibly get a contract from the
company, given that they need me. There were some problems in the
beginning. This was the first experience for me with this kind of
zero-hour contract. The point was they already fired me after one month,
my boss, - he's actually a really nice person =96 but he told me that
he had to fire me because they don't need me anymore. So I started to
look for another job, and I found one in a vegetarian restaurant. But
the next day my boss called me, and said: you can come to work again,
and I lost the restaurant job because they didn't need me either. So
it was like in one week, I really felt like a puppet, because I
didn't have any experience with this. This is really like harsh,
american-style capitalism, I think. So I thought: they can do what they
want, absolutely, and you don't have any way of dealing with it.
You just are told that they don't need you anymore.

The building where it's in, that's the whole company?

Yeah, that's the whole company. It's a huge new building which is
half empty, only two companies in there. The company is 150 or 200
people in there, and it has another affiliate in another country of
Europe, but it's a merger between an Australian and a U.S. company.
It's this kind of pyramid-company, which sticks itself to the big
companies and tries to buy off some deals, and this is how they work.
I don't have much clues about them. Most of the people that work
there are internationals, but there are also Dutch people, especially
on the managerial levels, it's not necessary. A large part is

The department you work in=85

It's an order entry department with maybe 30 people. I mean, on and
off, because I discovered most of them work on this zero-hour
contract, they come to the office three days a week. Which is what I
could possibly get as well.

Can they write down what hours they want?

No. The company calls them when they need them most, in these three
days.  It's a really classical American company, you always work extra
hours.  Like now it is a low period, in the new year, but you always
work extra hours. They try to make it like we're part of a family, so
for example,if someone wants to leave a bit earlier, the boss
basically says: yeah, but you have to ask your colleagues, it's not
upon me to decide. Because they have to stay longer. But there is
really very little solidarity in there.  I saw this in the case of this
boy who was fired. He was one of the two people who were fired just
before me, because they were surplusses, they weren't working at a
high enough speed, which could happen to me or another person as well.
But the point is, I felt there was no kind of solidarity, from the
people who were working there. He came back the next day, and the
supervisor said 'what are you doing here?' and he said: 'Well, why
was I fired?' And people were just finding him generally rude.  I
said: listen, he was very disadvantaged because he has a communication
problem, like how he talks. I said: he's gonna have problems finding
another job.  I feel now, if people have to work in an office, which has
really monotonous, braindead work, where you have to stare into the
computer 8 hours. They work all the time, 8 to 6, how can I expect from
these people to be like politically engaged or just human about this
thing? What I see for myself is that when I get home, I have to like
chill out, my head is really=85 And most of the people there work till
six. So this is one dynamic which I find really difficult  when you
have to start campaigning, how do you attract them, because they are
really tired, all of them.

So you have a zero hour contract?

Not even that. I have a temporary contract with my uitzendbureau, and
this is due to finish in 1,5 month, if the company doesn't need me.
If it says: we don't need you anymore, then I have to leave. So
it's a deal between the company and the uitzendbureau.

Can you say yourself I want these hours next week?

No, no, this is what they tell you. For example, this week there is very
little work, so my supervisor suggested kindly to just take 1,5 day off.
But he's a really cool guy, I mean he really helps us. I think he
comes from the same background, and just luckily got this job because he
was really good. So now he finds himself in this position of having to
ordain and really sack people.  So he says when to come and when to not

A normal week you work forty hours?

Forty hours but usually let's say it's forty-two or forty-three.
Sometimes a little bit less, like now.

The money you make is only for sustaining yourself?

Only for me, yeah.

You are from Slovenia?

Yeah. I'm legal now, but the first year I did things I am not going to
talk about here. This is like my first encounter with this Dutch labour
market. Before I was doing some black job, as well as I was an activist
in an organisation, and I was paid. That was two or three years.  Last
year in Slovenia I self-organised a project with four other people, we
got a grant for it, and we were doing some work in Italy with gypsies. I
did all sorts of work. This one is a new one for me, like being in the
system, regular work.

Do you have other sources of income?


The people in your company, or in the department, they all have the same
kind of contract?

No, there are people that are=85 There are two ways of entering the
company, the direct way and the uitzendbureau. The uitzendbureau gives
a temporary contract while other people have a fulltime contract. So it
is forty hours or a zero hour contract, which means three or four
times a week. It is like half-half. There are people who've worked
there for like five years and there are people who've been there a
year, and there are people like me. I started end of november 2004.

And when you were fired=85?

It was not really official, he told me in one week: you don't come any
more after Friday. But then on Friday, he told me: please, you can come.
I was really enraged with him, I said: you can't just tell me this
thing.  Then he was laughing at me, saying like: 'From which tree did
you just fall? Because this is normal, I can fire you. I can also just
let a human resources person come down to tell you don't come any
more.' They don't even need one week, they can tell you in one
hour. So I was like, ohhh, like being a little fool I think.  I think he
comes from the same background, because I was not hiding what I was
doing before, I stated in my CV [resume] that I was organising a lot of
people that are like really radical. Because my work was basically that.
They don't mind. There is a really big group of really different
people, you have artists, political dissidents that got legalised, who
now work there, musicians, all sorts of interesting people. Painters,
record producers. People that need a job, because now it is a kind of
crisis, so they have to do this stupid work.

Do you have financial or other problems now there is an economic crisis?

Well, no, but I am literally lucky because I have this place, I rent
really cheaply. It is very difficult to get a job these days, that's
what I find most harassing. But this place where I live is a legalised
squat, so I live like on the surface of the social movement part [in the
Netherlands, certain older squats have been legalised, with relatively
low rents, mainly squats from the early eighties??]. And I am alone, I
am not poor. I might be if I lose this job. Yeah.

Maybe do you know people who have lost a job recently?

The people I know who lost their jobs have been here so long that the
Dutch state tried to really integrate them. They do this kind of
half-paid work and half-voluntary work, but no, mostly, I find the
difference with illegal people that I know, and they have more problems
finding a job now, because all these illegal service jobs there were
before - except like private housecleaning - they now all need papers.
For them it's much more difficult. But I also know quite some people
from Holland that are desparately looking for work. It really is a work
crisis, and if you want work that you like, it's not very easy
anymore. You just have to take whatever, I think.

Are you member of a union, or not?

No. I am only one month legally on this market, you know. For me the
priority in this country is not what kind of job I have, because for me
it's important I make my university, which will make me another kind
of work. I'm not yet so much inside. But if I get, with this company,
intoa level that they will give me a contract, I would like to get in
touch with, like, unions or a group of people, you know? Because I want
to know what are our actual rights, even if we are like really
'flexworkers'=85I want to get in contact.

Do you have experience with conflicts at your work, even in the short
period you've been there?

No. Or do you mean inside the organisation? There is like a conflict
between departments, which is really all the time, because it's just
people blaming things on bad communication with other departments. But
that is nothing to do with this company, but a general thing, these
companies they work like this, very disconnected.

Do you notice anything of racism or discrimination at your work, or in the
labour market in general?

Ehmm=85 In this company, racism I would not say so. It's more
institutional racism, I mean in the society itself. We are an
international company.  What is a little bit present is this
male-dominated leading positions, a lot of men who are clerks, but I
think in managerial positions also more men. But I've only been there
so short, this is just what I see.

How do you see the future, do you want to keep this job for long, or are
you looking for something else? You say you are studying to be able to
work in something different?

I try to make my life like this, that my work doesn't take too much
energy, because of time I have to dedicate to my study. So I am trying
to look around for other things. I decided I am stopping with the
nongovernmental sector, because I don't want to earn money doing
politics anymore. Also because I have to have a space for study, so I
prefer to do a stupid job. If I found a job in a kitchen somewhere, I
would really like it, because this is really decent work, you know?
But for now, because I have to sustain myself, I am keeping this option.
Because I mean, you get used to it, [taps fingers like on a computer] to
the routine, you just have to learn how to do other things next to it.
But I don't see this as a future job. No, no, I'm just at the
beginning. Maybe a year until I learn better Dutch, because it is a
fact in Holland that the language brings you closer to the better, the
more interesting work, so automatically, for people like us that don't
speak good Dutch we get this kind of work andwe get the flexible work
especially. Later on, when I learn it better, I guess I start to look
for something more dynamic. I don't know.

After a while, do you want to have a fulltime fixed contract, or do you
like this aspect of flexibility that you have different types of work
alongside one another, or in successions?

That's a very difficult question, it is a good question. Because, a
fulltime job is today something great for somebody that doesn't even
have a job. They really dream about it I imagine. Then, when you see
the nature of this work, what this work is, then you say I don't
want to do this, but that is my perspective maybe. I have some broader
knowledge of, I don't know, what kind of other work you could do. I
wouldn't wish for this tobe my future work. If I consider that first
I was doing a black job, I was doing social activism work, and now I am
doing into-the-system-work, I feel the future is like, to create my own
work. That would be the perfectest thing, because I am able to raise
funds, and to create projects. But to get to that stage, I need a lot of
time, I need to go through this flex-thing.

What is the biggest problem that you come across in this economy, and how
do you see that in the longer term?

Okay. I come from the Socialist system, for example, for me moving here,
it never changed anything in the way the employer treats the people that
work somewhere. It just changed the nature of work, it means it is a lot
of short work, and here in the west, there is really little manual work,
everything is already in the South. It's very volatile, the companies
that are here now, they won't be here in two years, they are going
to make callcenters in Southern Africa. I ask myself, because they are
going to liberalise China for example, which is a huge market, open it
up. What will remain here in the west as a type of work that people will
do? Who is this theorist that said we are approaching the end of work
=96 I really agree with that, because I see less and less work. The
generation of my mother and my father that worked in socialism were used
to this like fulltime, long-life contract, and now they have these small
pensions. But the generation after me, for them, this flexwork is going
to be really normal. The conflict is in the people that are our
generation, that came from this more industrial work, where we still had
factories, industrial production, whereas now we have service
production, which is a very big shift. For us it's a big shock but for
the generation that comes after us this flexwork is going to be
normal. How can you say to a fifteen-year-old, like, you know, you
should fight for your rights, because the way your work is organised is
not good. He'll say: yeah, but which is the other way, because I
don't know which was the other way?  Which was the old way? You had
paid eight-hour work, you did something really concrete and you get a
pension, but now yeah, it's a good question, how do you organise
them? How do you explain this?

Do you have any remarks or questions?

I wonder what is the aim of organising the flexworkers. I find it a
really difficult campaign, I find it really important also. And I
wonder if you have legal people who have legal expertise, who can
actually explain your situation? I mean: do flexworkers entirely know
what are their rights, how can they organise themselves, how can they
approach things?  These uitzendbureaus, I think if you are a labour
campaigner, I think these are the first institutions you have to target
and research, because, not only do they take a lot of commission for
every hour worked, they also have very discriminatory, and unpersonal
ways of recruiting people. I think Holland in particular is one of the
countries that can deal well with the recession because this is why you
have more and more part-time, more and more flextime, flexworkers. This
difference between the part-timer and the flexworker, do you have any
research on this?

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