Friday, 8 October 2010

A Big Thank-You to Polish Cashiers

There was an 'Italian strike' in a number of Polish hypermarkets and large DIY outlets. This turned out to be a 'work to rule', whch I think means being as bloody-minded as possible rather than following rules in any clear sense. Someone asked me what I thought about it. Well, actually nothing. I wasn't planning on going to the shops so it didn't affect me.

I am quite balanced on the principle of union action of this sort. I believe in the concept of paying the market price for your labour force, but this is a complex thing to judge. Although most supermarket jobs can reasonably be described as low skilled - cashiers and shelf fillers, this does not mean they are unskilled. Cashiers need more than the ability to generate a list of prices and receiving payment. Very important, for me, is their ability to remain patient with moronic and unpleasant customers, whilst being pleasant to those that are more considerate. Company management, on the other hand is often forced to consider short-term costs eg the lowest possible expenditure on employees irrespective of quality. Things such as loyalty of the labour force go completely out of the window. This is rarely in their longer term interest, but they have little choice. Union action forces them to consider the balance of their own wider interests. With the union affecting a range of highly competitive companies, such actions help avoid competitive down-cutting.

I do have a strong personal interest in all this. I have been doing our weekly shopping in Polish supermarkets and hypermarkets for some years now. I am extremely grateful to that vast majority of cashiers who have been extremely friendly and helpful to me. So a big THANK YOU to all of you I have met in the two Tesco's, Auchan, Carrefour, Real and all the other shops around Warsaw's Jelonki; Tesco and the two Lidl's in Pruszków, Auchan in Piaseczno, Real and, for DIY, Praktiker in Janki. There have been many other places, but those are the main ones.

There was a campaign not too long ago complaining about supermarket cashiers, which brought home to me just how difficult their job was. The campaigners said that the cashiers were rude and didn't smile. I knew the first to be untrue as a general principle - there are always exceptions. Not normally smiling is something I would accept, but I couldn't, and can't, think of anyone I know who would do this in such a job. Who could possibly expect such a thing? It was explained to me shortly afterwards. Someone told me that they refused to go into any Tesco's stores because one cashier hadn't said anything to them expect to tell them the price. Once? Any Tesco's? I said that I thought they were good, and asked if he/she had said good morning/afternoon to the cashier. This was completely irrelevant. The cashier had to be nice, but the customer didn't. So that was what this arrogant, selfish campaign was all about: these people think they buy the cashier's time along with their groceries. They expected servants or slaves.

I have no idea whether the conditions the workers are seeking in the work-to-rule are right, but they have my good will. I do support Sunday shopping though.

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