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Saturday, 1 March 2014

The first day of the rest of my life

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I say this after quite possibly the most difficult and traumatic 48 hour period of my life during the past five years, during which I had to contend with the serious illness of an elderly relative, but also a grievance at work. I suspect that in the long term all will turn out as it should be, but I am very glad indeed that it is finally over.

It all started just over a year ago when I started a new job in a care home about 10 miles from home. I left my previous job because of bullying on the part of the Director (that is to say, the man who actually owned the home) and so hoped that this would be a new start. It was not to be.

From the very beginning it was obvious that they had lied. During my interview, I specifically asked whether I would be the only housekeeper to work at weekends, and was told no. On my first day of work I found out that they had lied. When I arrived for work on that first day, they had not been expecting me at all - nothing was ready, no uniform, no ID badge, nothing. It transpired that this is the normal thing - this company new order anything for new staff until they have actually started work, the reason being that they do not trust people to turn up. They therefore start off from a position of mistrust, assuming that you will do not do as you have said. I on the other hand like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are trustworthy and can and do tell me the truth. That has been my failing, for I have learnt the hard way through 13 months of hard slog and very difficult learning that there are people there who are more than capable of lying through their back teeth and will do anything to protect their own backs.

Following this somewhat shaky start, the first incident took place a mere three days after I started work, when I was told off for carrying and drinking from a bottle of water - yes, you did read that right. I wasn't just told off, I was shouted at and taken into a room where notes were being taken, making this look like some sort of disciplinary hearing. These notes have since mysteriously vanished, as have many more, some for more serious misdemeanours. This among other things will now form part of an investigation.

The list goes on - after 6 months I was told off for not wearing  bra (in temperatures of almost 100 degrees), and for allegedly (something I continue to deny ever even happened) going to the staff room one minute early to get changed and go home - the notes have also disappeared re this. I suggested that they set the clocks by TIM but this was refused. A few months after that they threatened me with the sack (again, no notes) for daring to suggest that a resident should not be taking toilet rolls from the communal bathrooms. I have also been shouted at for having the temerity to ask for a holiday form half an hour after starting work, for sitting down waiting for my boss to arrive so that I could get some keys, and for having the audacity to ask for a copy of notes from a meeting I had attended a few days earlier.

This one proved to be the last straw. At that last episode I was shouted at and humiliated in front of other staff and told that I as antagonistic and that my boss would be glad to be made redundant (something which happens in April) and never have to see me again. A month after that she was granted her wish, as yesterday was my last day of employment there, a few weeks after I put in that aforementioned grievance. All in all this does not paint a pretty picture at all.

The only reason I wanted those notes in the first place was because she had brought up some matters that were completely unrelated to the meeting in question, insinuating that I had not been doing my work at the weekends. I also suspected due to the words used (and the notes contradict this, so I do not believe they are accurate) that she had asked another member of staff to report back to her on this - by asking this person to ask me to do certain things and see my response. The reason I believe this is because four days earlier, I have it on good authority the exact same thing had happened to my friend, who also works at the same home.  

Yesterday then was the hearing. I was accompanied and supported by a wonderful lady from my Union - GMB. It strikes me that with all the goings on at the moment in the world of work with bosses laying down the law and employment laws changing (as usual in the employer's favour), Unions have never been more needed. I have a friend who works at the same place. She had her own grievance meeting earlier the same day - hers was unrelated to mine, being more to do with non payment of wages and changes to her duties at work. Unfortunately for her, for the moment at least remains. This lady though from the Union also supported her. For anyone considering joining a Union, particularly if you are in a manual or semi-skilled job, I cannot recommend this Union enough.

When I put the grievance in, I asked for seven incidents to be taken into account - going back to that first one with the water bottle, just three days after I started work. Unfortunately it seems that there is a three month and one day time limit in putting grievances in - the thing you are complaining about needs to have taken place within this three month time limit. I had not been aware of this, but it didn't matter in the end, for I was still able to talk about these incidents, and while they did in the end agree that things had been done in the wrong way, while they cannot consider them under current laws, it does help to paint a picture of a long line of incidents and bullying.

The only incidents then that they were able to consider were the last three - one in October of last year and two in January of this year. This latest one where I was shouted at was the worst of all. Of course the reason why a lot of these things happened in the first place was because of all the gossip and tittle tattle that has gone on, whereby certain members of staff act as Management informers. I had a good idea as to who some of these people were and did my best to avoid them, but when one of my fellow housekeepers provided a written statement in support of my boss, basically saying the exact opposite of everything she had said to me, that knocked me for six.

I think it was at that point during the meeting yesterday when the energy changed, when they realised how much this upset me and that I had been telling the truth on all of these incidents all along. This was shown by the two statements that I provided - one from my partner which spoke of the way this has effected both of us, especially our  sleeping patterns, and one from that aforementioned friend.

The conversation seemed after that point to take on a new dimension when the room went much more quiet and the questions more sympathetic rather than challenging. I also provided a 40 page diary of events. One of the questions, right at the beginning had been why I felt the need to write all this stuff down when I had only just started the job - I have though always kept a diary, from when I was a child, and so for me this was nothing new. Furthermore, when I did an NVQ for my line of work a few years ago in my previous job I was also encouraged to do this as a means of building up my evidence portfolio. This is then a habit that has continued - and I am glad now that it did.

I am pleased with what I achieved yesterday and let go of all attachment to the outcome - for me it is not and never has been about wanting heads to roll, this would achieve nothing - it is more about wanting an admission that this behaviour was and is wrong and that things need to change. This is perhaps the one thing I would like to achieve from all of this.

The representative from HR indicated that they will only read the bits from my diary that pertain to the dates I am actually complaining about, but the lady from the Union, and I am inclined to agree with her, thinks that the District Manager who heard the case, and whose job it is to decide, will in fact read the whole lot. I hope she is right, for if he does, the quality of my writing will quite literally blow his head off. He said that himself, that he had never seen a letter written as well, or as eloquently as mine. He said I was wasted in this job and should consider a career as a writer instead - something I did pursue for a number of years. That though is another story ...

What now remains is to wait for an answer - a decision and an answer. The waiting in some ways will be the hardest part, but I know that is where the real changes will be made - as a result of that reading that I hope he will now do. As for my colleague, she has her conscience to answer to, and a lot of anger to address. It is a nasty and vicious thing that she did, but my own conscience is clear, for I know that I did nothing wrong at all -  I walked in and out of there yesterday with my head held high. What goes around comes around, and she as one of only two housekeepers that now remain will experience all that I experienced during my time there, she will then come to regret her actions in the end.

As for me, I have made at least one good and lasting friend from my own experience at that place, and I know that I have touched and changed many lives - both staff and residents alike. I did well, and I should give myself a huge pat on the back. I should also thank my partner Coran, who was as always by my side, waiting patiently downstairs for the meeting to conclude, and whose ear has been severely bent by all of this. Were it not for her, all of this would have been a lot harder.  

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