THERE’S A hazy line that divides the wage earners and peons at our workplace. We do basically the same work, do the same shifts and bear the same responsibilities. The difference is that some of us don’t enjoy benefits like health insurance, dealing with management as a single bargaining unit (provided we join the union, of course) and similar goodies.
In short, we have something that’s known back home as security of tenure; it’s not so easy to get rid of us even for good reason, while our colleagues across the breach can be told goodbye, see ya at a moment’s notice if the latter so much as comes late or picks his nose once too often.
Trouble is, these hardworking guys are aware of their status, not being born yesterday, and the senior guys know it as well, since they’ve seen everyone come and go. They know they’re doing the work, they try to keep their nose clean and be good little boys, but nothing short of new policy straight from the top will grant them regular status.
Ever since the 2008 subprime mortgage bubble burst, affecting every civilized economy on this planet, growth has been flat or even negative for many industries, ours (food and manufacturing) no exception. Expansion has therefore taken a back seat to survival and keeping our existing customers happy, and holding on to our modest market share. Everything else, including new hiring, has gone below the radar, if you what I mean. The translation for foot soldiers like me is thank your lucky stars you’ve got a job, and I thank God as well.
It’s hard to start a conversation with the temps, as they’re called, although some of them have been working with us for at least half a year now. They’re chipper enough and full of energy whether at work or at teatime, but inevitably the talk, when you talk the talk, turns to how long they’ll stay here before they’re granted the same rights and privileges that the regular guys enjoy. And when you think about it, how can you disagree with someone who only wants what everyone else is getting?
Not that it’s that black and white, comrade. Each and every member of the worksite is aware of one of the last official hires, Vladimir (not his real name, of course) and the backstory. He was full of initiative, ready for work every day and a quick study in all the tasks assigned to him. He never backed away from extra shifts, did overtime when requested to, and not a word of complaint came out of his stoic mouth.
Lo and behold, a few months after he was regularized, he began missing Mondays and the day after payday, his sickies grating on his supervisors’ patience. He also began keeping company with the more indifferent staff members who weren’t that concerned about work ethic. Before long he had acquired a string of AWOLs, offenses in themselves if not for the slack cut him from understanding superiors. It didn’t make much difference to him, because by then he had come to work only when he felt like it; was a good enough worker when he was available, but you can’t rely on a good worker unless he’s there every time, all the time. And so as quickly as he was converted to regular worker from casual he was cut loose, and the company would think once, twice and thrice before hiring another. Why would they, when the staffing agency was full of hopeful temps, and when someone they gave so much trust to burned them just like that?
I know what you’re thinking. Why should someone suffer for another person’s previous shortcomings and all that? Well, in the first place like I said unless there’s a very good reason, payroll positions are to be put on hold, given the uncertain economic climate, and second, like I told you, once bitten, twice shy, thrice even. Vladimir didn’t know it, but he didn’t do himself, and anyone after him, a lot of favors by letting all of us down. Sigh. But still, it’s an awkward situation, working, eating and trading stories with your mates, and knowing deep down that you’re not being treated equally.
The situation bodes special significance to me, because although I’m one of the lucky ones with regular status, my job is particularly important : unlike everyone else in the room, I’m on a work visa, which means my job is the reason I’ve been able to stay in the country. A part of me is happy to stay here, but at the same time, I’m thinking : do any of my colleagues think I’m too lucky to be a guest worker, a regular status worker, and enjoy what they’re not enjoying?
And that’s why I’m lucky just to be working right here, right now.
- uneventful Saturday not so after all (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)