20 Minutes

There’s a lot of things you can do in 20 minutes. Off the bat, I can run 3km in 20 minutes; I can prepare a batch of cookies, I can clean my room or read about 10 pages of a book. Other people can do far more impressive things, like one guy who beat the game Prey in 19 minutes or an absolute maniac who holds his breath for 20 minutes. 20 minutes holds a world of possibilities for activity and achievement for those who have prepared and readied themselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the 20 minutes in which absolutely nothing can be achieved; where even sitting down doesn’t achieve restfulness. To run 3km, I need to be stretched and energised, for Severinsen to hold his breath he must be hydrated and mentally ready. The key point here is that to achieve anything in 20 minutes, one must have some level of energy; this is where we meet our dilemma.

Over the past five days, I have worked almost 50 hours. I work as a waitress and barista. I work day and night. I work pretty much whenever I’m told to, and it just so happens that this week I’m told to work over 50 hours. Yes, I am aware that being a waitress isn’t the most prestigious and mentally challenging job around, but the challenge lies in that at least 8 hours per day, I’m running around a restaurant delivering food and drink to a bunch of (generally rude) customers; my longest shift this week has been 10 and a half hours in one go. And herein lies my question of the potential of 20 minutes; my break.

Over these 50 hours, I have had one collective hour of break. Four of my five shifts, I have been gifted a generous 20 minutes to lounge around in peaceful bliss, ready to return to work refreshed and hydrated. Yes, of course I’m being sarcastic. What the hell is 20 minutes going to do when I’m working 10 hours at once on my feet? In that 20 minutes, I am able to eat a packet of crisps and an energy bar, check if my mum has texted me and retie my shoelaces before I am thrown back onto the floor. 20 minutes break? Worth nothing.

It’s not even that bad for me comparatively. I work with a 16 year old girl who not only has two jobs, but at this one alone will often work 10 hour shifts like myself- the real kicker here being that those under 18 are not meant to work more than 8 hours a day. We’re exhausted, and given the option I’m sure none of us would work the amount of hours we do- but given the state of economy and our own person socioeconomic standing, we’re not likely to stop any time soon. I’m popping caffeine pills and hoping for the best, because who has time to drink a cup of coffee?

My point is that 20 minutes is a ridiculous break period. A worker is entitled to this pitiful ‘rest period’ after six hours, and for young and adolescent workers after 4.5 hours; at my place of work you are entitled to 20 minutes of break per shift. So this shift can be 6 hours or 12 hours, and ta-da, you still get just 20 minutes. For jobs in which one is seated all day, I can understand why this might not present such a problem- but if you find yourself thinking me and my coworkers are pathetic for complaining, you try being on your feet for 50 of the 60 hours you’re awake over a few days.

Why have we got to a point where this is seen as acceptable? There are 16 year olds working 12 hour days 5 days a week and within this being lucky to get 20 minutes to recuperate. It’s ridiculous, and it’s making people ill- I’m sure of it. My premature little asthmatic lungs are not enjoying my working schedule and my feet have permanent imprints from the shoes I wear to work. I’m lucky that I have the option to reduce my hours (which I will be doing) as I will soon be at university with help of my maintenance loan- but there will always be people who cannot afford this luxury, and are paying the price of their health and well-being.

50 hours is too much, 20 minutes is not enough. Something needs to be done to acknowledge that low-wage, ‘low-skill’ workers are worthy of enough respect to warrant decent conditions.

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