The "Working in Ghana" Project

Petrol Station Pump Attendant

[Miss Kuada is a 25-year-old single woman who, after five years of unemployment, started working as a pump attendant five months ago. She has commpleted the ordinary level of the General Certificate of Education. She told Ebenezer Mensah, who interviewed her, that she plans to work at the job only until she can improve her grades on the ordinary level exams, after which she hopes to train as a nurse or a teacher. The interview took place at the petrol station on a day when the road serving it was closed due to construction. The station is located in the outskirts of Accra.]

Every day except Sunday I start work sometime between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. and finish at 8:00 p.m. As soon as I arrive, I start serving cars and vehicles that call at the station to fill their tanks. The station is located on a very busy street. The volume of traffic on that street is sometimes unbelievable; the route links several important places in the capital. Several embassies and establishments including very good hotels are located along this street.

Sometimes I stand on my feet for over six hours at a time servicing vehicles that call at the station to buy petrol. This happens between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. I experience another heavy schedule again between 5:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. when most workers have finished work. I get a period of rest around mid-day. I try to find some food to eat then.

At 6:00 p.m., I have to count the money that we received from petrol sales over the day. Sometimes I count millions of cedis. I almost get sick counting the money and arranging the bills into the various denominations to get them ready for the bank early the next morning. I normally return home very tired and weak.

I actually enjoy the work because I am always kept busy. This is better than staying at home not doing anything. Sometimes some of the drivers who call at the station to buy petrol ask me to keep the balance (change). Most of them love to see a woman doing this job which has been dominated by men. The drivers prefer that I serve them instead of the men counterparts. They believe that the men sometimes do not serve them the quantity they request and that if there is an excess payment they will not return the change. This is why I sometimes get too busy. Sometimes the gifts (change she is allowed to keep) are so much that I go home with very handsome sums of money, provided I don't have any losses in the accounts at the close of work.

The most frustrating aspect of the job is the tricks that some commercial drivers play on me. Some of them tell me to fill the tank, then after I've have done that, they tell me they don't have enough money to pay for all the petrol supplied. They will go, assuring me they'll settle the debt before I leave. They go and don't return until the next day. This means that I have to find some money somewhere to pay for that cost. Sometimes I have to ask my manager to allow me to settle the debt later. This frustration becomes burdensome when the amount involved is great. I know the drivers will come to pay since I have their license numbers. But they put me in hot water before they come to settle their obligation.

Another frustrating aspect is when vehicles are lined up at the station waiting to be served. Some drivers don't have patience at all. They begin to blow their horns on you as if you are the cause of the long queue. Some drivers cause problems in paying for petrol. Problems in getting change also contributes to such queues forming. I become very nervous when that happens.

The long hours of standing on your feet to supply vehicles is another difficulty. My legs begin to ache painfully. I am gradually overcoming this pain but when I started this job, it wasn't easy at all.

I work with four other pump attendants, all men. They all have their schedule. Three of them handle other pumps which supply petrol and kerosene. The fourth attendant handles the sales of engine oil and other lubricating oils. Everybody is kept busy at his job right from the morning until we close.

I enjoy working with these men because they are all fond of me. They give me the necessary cooperation when I am hard pressed. For example, if a motorist tries to pick a quarrel with me, they all step in to defend me. I am very proud of them all. My manager is also very kind to me. Sometimes he helps me in counting the money received from sales if there is a lot of it. He takes the money to the bank. When I need to be away for a weekend, especially on a Saturday, he tries to understand my point and grants me an off duty.

About the clients, I want to say that most of them are very kind to me. You know men handle women with care. Some of the drivers are exceptional in that they don't try to understand anything I tell them. Some delight in causing troubles since they have seen a woman doing what men normally do. But generally the drivers are very kind. Most of them prefer that I keep the change after I have served them. Some of them will also be handling certain parts of my body, to which I don't take too kindly. Most of the drivers are womanizers and they tend to make advances to any woman who comes their way. I have come to realize their problems so these days I take some of these "expensive jokes" kindly. It is a way of getting more customers for my employer.

Our pay is not very good, contrary to what many people think of us. However, the gifts here and there from drivers make up for the shortfalls in our pay. We sometimes get some benefits from the oil company, especially when they make high annual profits. Since I joined them, I have not benefited from any of these but other senior attendants have received a lot of awards and gifts from the company at the end of the year.

Since the job demands that I work from Monday to Saturday, I scarcely have time to see to my personal welfare. I sometimes don't have time to do my cleaning so I employ the services of some friends to do that for me. This is contrary to my wishes. Those I live with in the home scarcely see me to talk with me. I always go home very late and tired. After taking my bath I go straight to bed so that I will be fresh for the next day's work. It is only on Sundays that I have time to talk to friends and my sister who I stay with.

The demands of the job have affected my effort to better my "O" level examinations. In fact I have suspended the attempt since I am just fresh in this job. I hope to take it up again after I have worked for some time. The job has also affected my Christian life. Apart from Sundays, I don't get the opportunity to attend other important meetings like Bible studies on Wednesday evenings and prayer meeting on Fridays. This has really affected my personal spiritual growth.