Saturday, 10 January 2009

Lick the window of life

I've recently had the misfortune to see the latest incarnation of the Müller ad campaign on TV, prominently featuring Shropshire as some kind of bucolic heaven where everywhere has vaseline smeared on the lens and smiling kids with gaps in their teeth and summer dresses laze around in meadows. I had intended to post something snidey about the good folk of the county being as far from this idealised bollocks as possible, with their Superkings and their Poundstretchers and scollops, but I feel a little differently now that the piece has evolved.
Clearly, the company has carried out extensive research which shows that the great British public somehow identify the county of Salop with the honesty and wholesomeness of some bullshit idea of the countryside which never really existed in any case. I mean, have these people never watched the Thomas Hardy serialisations on Sunday nights? Are they unaware of the grinding poverty, virulent disease, widespread illiteracy and random violence? And things were even worse in the old days...

At the risk of getting a person into trouble, I will say that I know someone who works - if not in a dairy - then in a dairy packing plant (the place is actually known as The Dairy, but this is I think a misnomer) where all forms of lactose related products destined for the supermarket shelves are picked and packed 24x7. I don't know if Müller products are packed there, but what tales of woe are told, what a Dante-esque picture of hell is conjured up when describing the working conditions. Here are some examples:

The company provided an occupational health visit for the staff, as a result of which one older worker was found to have cataracts in both eyes. He was - naturally - told to get these sorted out as soon as possible. I didn't know this, but it makes perfect sense, that when cataracts are present in both eyes, two separate visits for operations are necessary to remove them. On his return to work, the man was issued with a verbal warning for taking two sickness periods in a given time frame.

A younger worker with breathing difficulties (I believe asthma related) was struggling for breath while on his 12 hour packing shift. Despite the pleas of the other men on the shift, the supervisor insisted that the man finish his work, even though he was barely able to breathe at the end of it. He was hospitalised almost immediately, and made a recovery, but was again issued with a verbal warning on his return to work.

The management of the place seem to be able to act with total disregard for employment law, or even basic respect for human dignity, which is startling in this day and age. But, a job's a job they say, and that has never been so true as it is now. So, when I see the Müller ad, I feel genuinely sick for the poor bastards working in this place, and doubtless many others around the country, and I now look at the cheese in the chiller cabinets at Waitrose in an entirely different light.

And that's without even getting into the whole vegan thing.


marie said...

it'll be interesting to research on how soybeans are produced

Michael said...

That reminded me of a Japanese automotive company I used to teach at in the Czech Republic. Assembly line staff were allowed one toilet break every 2 hours. Women at a certain time of the month were allowed more - but had to wear a red (of course!) armband.
Some of these managers need a non-verbal warning of their own.

Myeral said...

I was on the train up to York today, and saw a group of *something* pickers huddled down against the grey drizzle. I'm sure it wasn't soya beans they were picking, but - hey - at least they were out in the open.

Myeral said...

Bleeding hell Michael. Sorry...