Rail pay offer hard to swallow

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The Independent Online
Some people never know when they are well off. Train catering staff were offered the opportunity to "write your own pay cheque", but they proved ungrateful.

A righteously indignant manager, having offered them a new sky's-the- limit pay deal, has since written to employees telling them to leave if they don't like it.

There were however a number of small difficulties with the offer, which replaced a pounds 3-an-hour wage rate.

The main problem was that the new deal cut their wages to one of the lowest hourly rates in the country.

Employees were provided with a smart uniform, a trolley laden with "high quality" beverages and comestibles and the opportunity of boarding a train and selling their wares to grateful passengers.

The sky was indeed the limit, but "trolley stewards" had to sell more than pounds 50 worth of goods in a day to qualify for a commission of 20p in the pound. If the magical pounds 50 sales was not breached - and according to employees this was frequently the case - then they could end up with pounds 10 for a nine-hour day. That works out at pounds 1.11 an hour.

Chelfields, the catering company offering the jobs on regional trains in the Manchester, Sheffield and Hull areas, was not prepared to guarantee any pay at all. If stewards turned up for duty, and through "circumstances beyond our control" management was unable to provide work, they were paid nothing.

As part of the three-monthly contract Chelfields also reserved the right to search workers' belongings and prevented them from speaking to outsiders about their employment conditions on pain of dismissal.

When news of dissatisfaction reached Chelfields the company told its employees: "To those who are unhappy with the job, our advice to you is clear. LEAVE (you will not be missed). And do not disrupt those of us who are trying to better both the way we work and our service to our customers."

Staff were told that unimpressive profit returns had prompted the new offer and John Pender, operations director, said that most employees would earn more than the basic.

However, Chris Pond, director of the Low Pay Unit, said the new deal put the job among the 10 worst paid in the country.