I got a 5-weeks-long replacement job last summer and after four Thursdays, I was intoxicated by the mind-numbing office clerk routine.
Forecasting a quiet tomorrow, I looked out if I could get a day of break, pretexting duties. The employer replied: «I have to ask your colleague if, very honestly, she’s too busy to look after your duties tomorrow. You know, I asked the agency for someone who could undertake a 5-weeks replacement, so I won’t say ‘YES YES GO’ if I’m asked a free day.» And thus is underlined my own status: I’m only temporary.
Like many of my sisters, I’m a regular precarious worker.
I’m a quiet number on the recall list of employment agencies. I’m the faceless asset of staffing transactions, trading secretaries and receptionnists. I’m the Etch a Sketch human resource, the open-eyes/closed-eyes doll with recorded sentences.
Precarious work is not only a precarious financial situation: it’s about being considered as a robot (no emotions and no needs) or as ground beef (easy-to-use, easy-to-buy, of undefined quality). It’s being censored by the line of girls who could be hired for the same job, with the bonus of low willingness, experience or motivation to speak up. It’s being financial chained to a job to pay the rent, or emotionnally indulgent toward dreadful occasions because of a deeply rooted vocation for the job.
Dozens of time, I waited patiently for dinners to finish, bored by never-ending follow-up conversations between exclusive workplace friends. I had bosses who refused to write me references, asserting they couldn’t tell anything about me from such short periods. My status of agency worker justified the “no credit account for you” at the cafeteria. It caused the request of 60$ criminal record check for the entry pass of a low-security building. It repeatedly allowed a complete denial of my presence at office parties when colleagues shouted “Come for the picture!” to their peers.
Precarious jobs are not fate reversed only to women, but working in jobs that (behind basic job know-how) actually ask for kindness, reassuring attitude and submissiveness, does.
Agencies make managers believe they have the perfect one-dimensional people they wish for. On paper, initiative is always encouraged. In reality, filling lacks of workload (in office, for example sorting and reorganizing storage of office supplies) destabilize and bother. Initiative, dynamism and creativity reveals a Maslow-pyramidal human. It calls for leaving room for the potential of a temporary employee, a risky and demanding process. Personality traits hampers the emotional labour required to be a “suitable” subcontracting employee.
As a subcontracted employee, I am the reassuring sleeping resource for pessimistic previsions of work overloads. I am the jewel box for distant bosses concerned to maintain their professional status. I am the new employee that causes discomfort when asked: « So, you often work for temporary agencies? » and providing the answer : « I do. Before that, I completed a bachelor degree in management and another in journalism. » I can’t mimic joy in contracts drenched in contempt, aloofness and inequity. I saw women who’ve done this job forever and sustain their dignity by an unflinching loyalty, a rapid learning of others’ habits to predict and resolve shortcomings and a perfect availability over any office need. I saw their bosses getting mad over photocopies errors, raising doubts about the intelligence of these secretaries when discussing serious matters with serious employees and suspiciously asking clock-in and clock-out times after no chore landed on their desk for weeks.
I had to accept that many professionals preferred shutting their eyes on the under-utilization of a resource than opening any door for satisfactory challenges.
Some people see through one’s position. One time, I met a dear mentor, who shared with me her professional learning and offered me later a first experience as a self-employed freelancer. She facilitated my first experience of independance and self-declaration. Another time, I met my beloved life partner, that I recognized as the sweetest, most attentive and kind colleague from all those who introduced themselves in front of my desk. He encouraged me to stand tall and protest, on times I came home in tears. Shining pearls from muddy lakes.
Yesterday, I’ve been offered a freelance contract by a client. It stipulated I had to guarantee my exclusivity, pay this entreprise for being my client, forget any guarantee of work, contact none of my upcomings networking contacts in my future, offer alone my pay for legal proceedings if a client of my client wouldn’t pay, have no regard on the conditions of the said proceedings, being forbidden to work for other clients if the concerned work wasn’t to the liking of my client.
I’ve been given the guarantee, in exchange, that I would receive counselling on my career and my face on a website. I had a glimpse of the future advices : « No entreprise offer differently! » «You can’t expect more! » and « You have to trust me if you want to work with me » .
This is a casting agency, this is for commercial modelling, and this is as shitty as job agencies and temporary replacements.
I’ve given enough : don’t expect me in that loop anymore!
Credits : can be given upon demand.
A note on the pictures chosen : This shooting resulted from one of my rare commercial contract. Posing for catalogs is a non specific type of modelling and therefore can involve almost any model. In this sense, it felts complementary to the text. However, the topic of my post, written only in my name, has nothing to do with the retail client and do not aim to critic this enterprise in any way.