Working Wounded

Hate your job? At least you don't have to put up with bullies, maggots and corpses. Matt Weiner meets Britain’s unluckiest workers

"... and these are your work colleagues"



The worst part about using maggots to treat leg ulcers is the smell... they stink of rotten vegetables!" As the nurse specialising in tissue viability at the West-brook Health Centre, Warrington, Sue Sutherland has the rather unusual task of applying maggot dressings to patients' leg wounds. The unpleasant odour is caused by the parasites’ continual excretion as they feast on the surrounding bacteria. “You have to remove them after three “days though,” says Sue happily, “otherwise they turn into flies.”
Could this be the world’s worst job? Well, it’s definitely a contender, but Sue faces some stiff competition from Maxine Coe, senior technician at Sheffield City Mortuary. Every year, around 25 badly decomposed bodies arrive in Maxine’s care having lain undiscovered. “When the warmer weather starts, people forget to visit the old and they can simply die forgotten,” she says. But even the day-to-day routine is pretty gruelling: “I have to prepare three bodies for post mortem in an average day and it’s the smell... they say you get used to it, but I never have.”
Here in Britain, where we toil for the longest hours in Europe and are rewarded with the shortest holidays, one of our few pleasures left in life is to moan about our jobs. But we’ve all worked somewhere that was worse.

"They pinned me against the forklift, shrink-wrapped me in cling-film in the crucifix position and raised me  10 feet in the air."

One in six workers are bullied by their boss according to a 1998 TUC survey, but few are as evil as the man dubbed The New Fagin by the Evening Standard. Dan, one of his unfortunate young employees, described an average day under his criminal boss: “You worked 12 hours a day, six days a week ‘spazzing’,” he says. Spazzing involves pretending to be mentally handicapped to gain sympathy while trying to sell household goods door to door. “Whoever made the least money each day would have to sit in the ‘Slap Seat’ and be beaten by the others on the way home," says Dan.
Now a journalist, Mark Sylvester was one of the one in eight people in Britain who suffer bullying in the workplace. After leaving college he took a job at a supermarket warehouse in south London. “They discovered I had a degree,” he says, “and started calling me The Professor.”
When they found his copy of the Guardian, they tore it up and put it in his sandwiches. Worse was yet to come: “They pinned me against the forklift and proceeded to completely shrink-wrap me in cling-film in the crucifix position and raised me about 10 feet in the air. I was left suspended like that for about half an hour.”
Meanwhile, The Idler Wage Slave Support Group website offers a space for wage slaves to seek solace in the experiences of those even less lucky than themselves. One poor drone relates the time he worked in a cardboard box factory. He says he dreamt about boxes, saw boxes when he closed his eyes and could taste boxes when he ate.
To this day, he stills wonders why they didn’t just use a lump of stone instead of paying him. Whatever your line of business there’s a lesson for us all here. If a rock can do your work better than you then it's probably time to get a new job.