Reciprocity, work and care in the food retail sector

Airey, L. and Backett-Milburn, K. and Hogg, G.M. and McKie, L. and Rankine, L. (2007) Reciprocity, work and care in the food retail sector. Work, Employment and Society. ISSN 0950-0170

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Limited research has been conducted on the change and transformation of the interlinked domains of work and family on women working in unskilled and semi skilled jobs in food retail companies. In this paper we report on findings from twenty-one semi-structured interviews conducted with women aged 21 to 64 working in this sector. Participants in the research were low paid, white shop workers living and working in suburban and semi-rural localities in Scotland. The day-to-day management of care, and disruptions in arrangements, took place among all workers, supervisors, relatives and friends, with limited knowledge of, and no recourse to, company policies and relevant legislation. A notional form of reciprocity underpins all these processes as care work is bartered across a range of relationships. Supervisors have a pivotal role maintaining staffing levels often incurring personal and financial costs as a consequence. Thus the hierarchical nature of organisational structures placed particular tensions upon supervisors in particular, with regards balancing work and care. In this paper we address the themes of intersectionalities of gender, hierarchies in organisations, and social class, as these are evident in, and organised around, combining caring and working in the food retail sector. While data are drawn from a culturally homogenous group of women, analysis illuminates the enduring nature of gender divisions and how women are managing the manifestations and practices of these divisions.