Like many students across the country, I have just arrived home after my first term at university. Whilst the experience was both thrilling and bitterly disappointing, university has been an experience that will stay with me for a lifetime. Upon arriving home I was greeted with many of the home comforts I had so sorely missed, my parents, a hot shower that stayed hot, sky telly and a double bed that I didn’t fear falling out of in the middle of the night. Home was comforting and safe and despite being adamant that at 19 I was now a fully independent woman, I thoroughly enjoyed being at home again.
However, my world came crashing down after the realisation that I was starting my Christmas job after just one night at home. Throughout my A levels I worked Saturdays and during my holidays so, being a member of Costa Coffee had sort of become ingrained in me, rather like an unsightly spot that you know popping will only make worse. I needed the job for the money but working within a multinational corporation felt rather like selling my soul to the devil.
My Mother maintained that it wouldn’t be as bad as I expected, that I had done it before and therefore I could do it again. My elder sister who was currently working full time at the Costa store I was temping at over the holiday period chimed in with “if I can do it every bloody day, you can do it for three weeks”. Perhaps they were right, my first three months at university had made me work shy and earning my own money was something I should embrace, not moan about constantly.
Oh how wrong we all were.
Unless you work in this type of service based industry I think it is hard to truly understand what it is like. I have a new found respect for these people, who turn up everyday and have the ability to, unlike me, not moan about it all the fucking time. This is what hard graft really is. The work is physically demanding, being on your feet for over 8 hours a day with only one measly 30 minute break takes it toll. The job is fast paced and leaves no time to think (perhaps why the industry has avoided being unionised for so long). The worst bit of all though has to be the customers. Whilst the staff are working their arses off for a little over minimum wage the general public get to tut and moan about the level of service. The men and women I work with don’t stand around chatting, being actively slow or obnoxious; they are doing their very best and working tirelessly for money that is, quite honestly, a joke.
In my time at Costa I have heard comments such as “It’s a good job you’re not performing brain surgery”, “I could’ve died waiting for this cup of coffee”, “Do you not think you overcharge for all of this?”, “Do you have any idea what you’re even doing?”.
This is the most irritating thing of all, people paying obscene prices for drinks that I don’t want to make and they don’t really want to pay for. It costs Costa Coffee around 6p to produce a small black americano, which we sell for just shy of £2. Of course you’ve got to take into consideration the shitty pay of the workers, the rent of the building etc… But if I am selling a cup of coffee at over a 3,000% mark up I kind of expect to be earning more and bitched at less.
Our society ignores this class of people that work exceptionally hard for poor wages. This is not just unique to Whitbread (who own Table Table, Beefeater and Premier Inn also), but this is evident across the service industry. This is the emergence of a new type of working class, one which doesn’t necessarily adhere to traditional class stipulations but who are treated as such. These workers are marginalised by the corporations who are intent on increasing profits at the expense of their workers. My colleagues are over worked and underpaid, yet they find a way to become comfortable in their oppression. They all have a fantastic sense of humour and comradery, which is the driving force for their work. I have a huge respect for every single one of them. This is not something I could ever do day in day out, they are far better than me in this respect.