Four Words

I mentioned that I’d been reading Tom Reynolds’ book, along with my general preference to avoid blogging work-related stuff.

Something I can share with you – which I’m astonished Reynolds doesn’t mention – is the power of a simple four word phrase to irritate public sector workers.

Actually, there’s two of them – four word phrases, that is, not public sector workers, although I’m sure Call Me Dave has a target date by when that will also be true. The phrases are, “I know my rights” and “I pay your wages”: the first of those is obviously a Key Performance Indicator for every “English as a second language” school in London, as we frequently hear it from people who then insist we rustle up an interpreter (at fifty squid an hour, paid for by the taxpayer) as their English is too poor to explain their fantastically-complicated problem to us (and of course I’m already contravening their yoomin rights by not understanding their language). Nine times out of ten, the problem will turn out to be completely outside our remit, and all we can do is send them off to some other agency to repeat the process.

Actually, that’s often true of the fluent English speakers as well.

The second of those phrases (check back two paragraphs, just before the mini-rant) is most often heard, completely without irony, from people who’ve never done a day’s work, and therefore never paid a penny in income tax, in their lives.

There’s a third phrase, used by one particular frequent flyer, which is guaranteed to wind my mate Brian up no end: this guy prefaces each of his demands for sepcial treatment with “We the people insist…”. He’s never specified what marks him out as one of The People, and Brian as NOT one of The People, but whatever it is, he’s pretty fixated on it.

Whatever he – and spouters of the other wind-up magic words – mean by it, it seems to be symptomatic of a feeling that’s becoming pretty widespread, if my extensive research (the comments from the ranting idiots who respond to stories on the Echo website) are accurate: a feeling that the working population is divided into two groups: the private sector, with their Victorian working conditions, poor salaries, lack of job security and enforced flexibility of contract, and the public sector with their massive salaries, gold-plated pensions, total security of employment, early retirement, and contracts that tie down job descriptions to within an inch of their lives.

While I’d be the last to deny that private sector working conditions are pretty grim at the moment, things are no better for public servants. I’m paid significantly less than I could earn in the private sector (if there were any private sector jobs going in my speciality) and I haven’t had a pay rise for three years, in spite of increased responsibilities in that time. My team is two people down because of redundancies, and is picking up more work because of redundancies in teams around us. My pension looks pretty rosy, at least compared to the state pension, but only because I’ve contributed heavily to a private scheme for years. I get fairly decent amount of holiday – or at least I would, if I had time to take it. I’ll be carrying the maximum-permitted number of days over at the year end, because I haven’t had time to take them. I actually had to cancel a booked holiday so another member of my team could get married in half term week – his fiancee’s a teacher and couldn’t have time off anywhen else, and there isn’t enough flexibility to allow us both to be off at the same time, even though if you looked at our contracts you’d think there was no overlap in what we do.

Please understand I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m anything sepcial, quite the opposite: my working conditions are no different to ninety-nine percent of public sector workers.

I was employed – and technically still am – as a Health and Safety sepcialist, but an expectation of flexibility and a desire to stay employed means that I’m expected to do more and more little “odd jobs” on the side. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve –

  • Investigated a suspicious package which our mailroom team thought might be a hostile device. It turned out to be a broken washing machine part that one of our regular contributors thought we should see.
  • Scrambled around on my hands and knees making secure a broken security gate. I wouldn’t have been allowed to go home and leave it insecure.
  • Explained to a colleague that the reason he hasn’t got his new ID card yet is that he refused to supply a photograph, or to attend to have one taken.
  • Explained to another colleague that the reason it isn’t warm enough to sit in the office in shirtssleeves might be connected to the snow in the ground outside (his response was“it’s all right for you, you’ve got a pullover on”)
  • Spent 45 minutes trying to explain to a member of the public that turning up without an appointment, at five o’clock and without an apparent reason means he’s not going to get to see our Chief Executive. And that swearing at me and offering to sort me out outside doesn’t help his case. And for the record, he was wrong – I’ve seen my parents’ wedding photos.

All grist to the mill of the average public sector worker.

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