06. Something for the weekend

On building sites, long hours and weekend working are the norm. I've lost count of the times I fell out with a site manager, arguing that if they only paid me single time on a Saturday morning, I’d barely be making any money after paying for train fares, breakfast and tax. But in a casualised industry where most of the workers are employed via agencies, the response was often, “if you don't want to work Saturday, don't bother coming in on Monday.” Even if I did cut a deal, the foreman would say keep if to myself - he was doing me a favour. This never sat well with me.

On one site, the foreman came into the canteen on Thursday morning and announced a big concrete pour was scheduled for Sunday and everyone was expected to work all weekend. I'm halfway out of my seat ready to have a row when this old carpenter next to me grabs my arm and whispers “sit down young 'un.” Nothing is said and the foreman leaves the hut. Over the next 20 minutes, I watch this fella go round and quietly chat to the 20 other workers on the job.

When the foreman came back into the hut at lunchtime, the old hand casually says “sorry, but me and most of the others are on a stag do and won't be able to make it.” The foreman looks straight at him and then asks everyone else, “is that right?” Most nod. One or two say, “yes, it's been planned for a while.” The foreman knew it was all bollocks but after he couldn’t bully anyone into agreeing to work all weekend, he left the hut.

By Friday morning, we’ve all been offered double time for Saturday and Sunday, with a guarantee that we'll be given more notice in the future. No need for shouting and hollering, no need for one person to be a martyr. Lesson learned: Being prepared to challenge the manager is important - but getting all the workers to support you is often decisive.