the last 36 of the last work week of summer


A pleasant surprise : "Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running the last few weeks -Ben (obviously the supervisor)"  Awww..

A pleasant surprise : “Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running. -Ben (obviously the supervisor) On top are two supermarket vouchers totalling $50. Awww..

THROUGHOUT HIS professional life, Dad was/is a deskbound, adding machine-holstered white-collar worker, but he was always blue-collar in attitude and approached work the way a wage-paid laborer did.  Day in and day out he answered the call, and only the most extreme reason could keep him from work.  Showing up everyday and on time shows you care for your job, he said in so many words.  It didn’t matter how high or low you were on the totem pole, if you were there ready and good to go, ready for your mission, then the boss looked good, and if the boss looked good, then oftener than not, things would look good for you.

It was just as well for me when I carried on with that work ethic in New Zealand where I now live and work, ’cause it seemed that in blue-collar Wellington, where the luck of the draw landed me, everyone who liked his job (and lots of those who didn’t) showed up for work every day that the Lord made (or bawat araw na ginawa ng Diyos, if you like), 15 minutes before the bell rang, and bright and cheery for work.

Bright and cheery also included being battle-ready for anything new on the menu, meaning if training or upskilling was available, you grabbed the offer, because usually that meant new machinery or new positions were emerging in the workplace.  On the record nothing would be taken against you if you refused, but the boss would remember the next time you needed a favor or when advancement was appearing, and likelier than not you wouldn’t be recommended.

So work ethic and “optional training” had combined to give me the position of backup operator on the brand-new packing machine.  Theoretically, as long as I was dependable and a third shift was needed, I was their man.  Unfortunately, theory turned into reality when one of the regular packers accepted a supervisor’s job in his hometown’s winery, an irresistible prospect for him, and because of staffing issues the packing machine quickly fell 200 man-hours behind based on a constantly increasing order schedule.

To truncate a potentially longish story, I was transferred from my regular department to packing, on a 10-hour 0500 to 1500 shift to make up for lost hours.  Before the end of the second day the site manager decided that even that wasn’t enough, and asked the packing supervisor to ask me if I could change from morning/afternoon shift to the graveyard shift.  Before even thinking, and undoubtedly because of Pinoy pakisama I just said “sure why not?”  After all, the week was almost over, and the overtime money couldn’t hurt.

Famous last words.

It's a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

It’s a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

Problem is, 12 hours during the night is a bit different from 12 hours during the day.  The lack of sunlight and daytime warmth makes the hours stretch endlessly, and the lack of human company stretches same even longer.  It helps that you keep going round and round a machine roughly 10 square meters in area, and constantly feed it paper bags, glue and plastic rolls for the bag bundler oven.  You also weigh product regularly and never stop monitoring the various conveyors, metal detector, bundle labeller and robot palletizer.

In short, while the work is tedious and wears on your limbs, if you do your work, you almost never get sleepy.  The machine was notorious for kinks on any or all of its various innards, but because the catchup production was a high priority, the site manager actually gave me the round-the-clock assistance of the plant engineer, unheard of before she thought of doing it.

And all this, heading headfirst into the biting wind of autumn.  Summer was long gone and on annual leave.

***               ***               ***

The first night was the hardest, because jams on the conveyor were constantly holding up production.  The scale inside the packing machine needed at least one recalibration, and the metal detector was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough.  But as soon as the different machines settled in, production was smooth for the rest of the night.

This is what the robot palletizer looks like.  Ours has a cage around it, because you don't want to be ANYWHERE near it when it's working;  one hit and you're a goner. :(

This is what the robot palletizer looks like. Ours has a cage around it, because you don’t want to be ANYWHERE near it when it’s working; one hit and you’re a goner. 😦

The robot palletizer was another matter.  Bundled product coming into the final conveyor must be exactly in the same place every time, otherwise the bundles don’t get piled up correctly and the robot must be reset.  The robot palletizer is exactly what it sounds a metal arm that scoops up anything you want and depending on the pattern you program into it, piles up neat piles of bundles all night long.  The bundles can’t be too fat or too thin, the shrink-wrap plastic at just the right temperature so it won’t be too hard or too soft for the robot to pick it up neatly.

So as you can see, I had plenty of things to occupy me, and on pure adrenalin and healthy stress, I hardly even had the time to sit and have a cup of tea.  It was only my forklift guy and the engineer who reminded me to take the breaks before I realized it was the crack of dawn.

This went on for two more days, and the next week was a “regular” shift schedule of 10 hours, which I didn’t mind too much because I had the advantage of day shift.

Two weeks later, I realized how important the 24/7 shifts were when the supervisor sent me a thank you note (with the blessing of the site manager), and a $50 supermarket voucher.  Suddenly the cold and tedious nights of those shifts just became a distant memory.

Now, on to just another week of night shifts to finish…

Thanks for reading!

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