Desiderata 6

Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time

How many of us believe that our identity and self-worth are symbiotically  intertwined with our employment status.   Ask the person who has just been retrenched after more than say 7/10/15 years on the job, why he feels that his life has lost all meaning, his raison d’etre.  Ask the man who has just retired after more than half his life with the one company. How many people go into a deep depression when this happens – especially the males.

You are among strangers – among the first questions asked are: “where do you work?”,  “what do you do?”.

This is where I could say that there is more to you than what you DO, that Life is really about who and what you are, what kind of person you ARE – Doing vs Being.  And I am into that.

And that is all well and good, to bathe in these philosophies – if you have a roof over your head, you have food in the cupboard and you can pay your bills. But if you do not have a job, you are not part of the workforce and want/need to be, then that is a different kettle of fish entirely.

I wish to travel a more practical path – the effects of unemployment.

So many companies have gone to ‘casuals’ – not even ‘permanent part time’ .  There is no loyalty from the companies, with “workers” having to be on call just in case they might be needed. No preplanning, no regular hours, no consideration.  Workers are just an expendable economic resource.

Are you aware that statistically, if you work for just one hour a week, you are employed? That is where our ‘un/employment statistics’ come from. Who can survive on the wages of just one hour’s work a week? How many people just cannot get any sort of job, let alone a full time job. How many people are part of the “under-employed” trying to survive on a few hours’ work a week to top up their subsistence Centrelink payment?

Our ‘employment’ is a vital part of our support network.  It enables us to feed, clothe and house ourselves, and provides a major part of our social interaction with others. Our boss depends on us to do our job – and the company survives and grows.  We feel needed.  This give us a sense of satisfaction and achievement.  This is especially  valid in full-time employment and even ‘permanent part-time’.  There is a sense of belonging, of being part of a team, a necessary cog in  the wheel.

A person has to live, so he goes to the supermarket; he eats out; buys clothes; socialises with friends,  etc. etc.

The point I am getting to here – and is one of my pet peeves at the moment – people in jobs are being replaced by machines – not for better service nor greater efficiency – but for greater profits.

Now I am not suggesting that we go back to the pre-industrial era. There have been major improvements in the world thanks to mechanisation and computerisation. There have been some major stuff-ups too no doubt.

And I am not against profitable businesses – without a reasonable profit in your business, you’re working for peanuts – as many small business people are.  In many businesses, reasonable profits are achievable with a 50-100% markup,  resulting in a profitable turnover and a successful business.  A markup of 400% plus, seems  greedy and can be counter-productive to the sustainability of the business.  Like everything else – this is a generalisation and no doubt there are some businesses that NEED 400% markups and above.

My pet example, of machines replacing people, at the moment, is Supermarkets.

Two of the major Supermarket chains that I have visited, are replacing persons operating checkouts with self-service checkout machines, with one person overseeing as many as 6 machines – or maybe more.

I refuse to use the machines, as for each one they install, about 3 (shifts of) people are out of a job. I think this is extremely short sighted and driven by bean-counters – or worse – economists and theorists. Most times I go to a checkout, I tell the person serving me I am actively trying to keep him/her in a job.

There is a company advertising on television at the moment how they employ 87 new people every day – many of these are first time jobs for schoolies. These schoolies mainly man the checkouts – for how much longer !

This is where the schoolies often get their first work experience to put on their resumes, their first taste of working and earning money; it helps them to develop a good work ethic and to appreciate the value of hard earned money.  It never did grow on trees !

The ripples go out from there, to these young employees becoming useful and productive members of society, in whatever field they eventually choose to work.

The employee draws wages, pays income, GST and other taxes, contributes to the Supermarket employees’ superannuation pool, contributes via the Medicare levy to the Health system. He is more likely to shop in that supermarket – because he probably gets a staff discount – rather than at the competition.

His family will also shop there because he works there, his friends will often shop there because he works there – and it is nice to see a friendly face when you go shopping. He and his family and friends will also tend to shop at the Company’s other affiliated businesses – the department store, the clothing store, the shoe store, the liquor store, etc.  This all helps the company’s prosperity.

Being in a job also means that money is circulating in the community and the wider economy.  It goes to the butcher, the baker, the bank, the café, travel agent, the local restaurants, the local clubs, the pet store, the hardware store, the electrical store, the liquor store, etc.  It goes out in housing loans, car loans, personal loans, etc.

An employed person pays various taxes – which go toward schools, defence, roads, hospitals, infrastructure, (and yes, politicians’ salaries – which in turn contribute to the economy!).

He is also able to contribute to the various charities and other entities that desperately need funds to survive, from the bigger one like Salvos, to the smaller ones like the P&C, the hospital auxiliary, etc.

Each time a supermarket installs an automatic checkout machine, these are the scenarios I envisage:

The Automatic check out machine costs a small fortune to install and needs complicated behind-the-scenes software, which costs a small fortune to maintain and upgrade.

I do not think that the machine pays income tax or GST, it does not contribute to Superannuation or to Medicare or to the Welfare system.

It does not physically contribute to the actual cash flow/income to the business for whom it ‘works’.

It has no social benefit.

It does not need to buy food or clothes, etc, so it does not shop in the Company’s stores.

It is not a customer.

It won’t think of better ways to do things or solve a crisis. It does not answer a question, or direct you to a product you may want, or encourage you to try something new, or that is on special.  It is not constructive.

It is not a person.  It is not loyal – it has no feelings.

For the purposes of this discussion, let us surmise that each time an employee is retrenched/superseded by an automatic check-out machine, that employee no longer feels any loyalty to the Company – because the Company has not shown any loyalty to him.

So he no longer shops at any of the Company’s business – he now goes to the competition; his family and friends are more likely to shop with the competition also, because loyalty is important to people – especially to family and friends.

The other loss to the Company is the intellectual data store that each person carries around in his head.  The longer they are there, the greater the data storage that can be called upon – the idiosyncrasies and subtleties of the business, that long term staffers just know.

Casuals don’t normally take that deep an interest in the business – they are not there long enough and they are expendable – so why bother.  Then there are the costs of constantly training new staff…

As regards the further ripple effect – this person is now unemployed and no longer paying income tax or any other taxes, cannot afford to do much shopping at all so less GST, and needing to draw on the welfare system, the Medicare system – his contributions to which have ceased; he is no longer contributing to the Company’s superannuation fund – less money in the pot.

Less money in taxes means less money for schools, hospitals, infrastructure, health …. There is a whole host of things which depend on taxes.

When the family breadwinners become unemployed – particularly in a country town, then usually the families have to move to larger centres for work – if they can get it – so less children in the local schools: so less funding, less teachers, less facilities for the kids; other local shops close, because there is less money circulating in the local community; the charities and small entities particularly suffer,  as they are no longer being contributed to, but being drawn from.  The town loses its heart and dies.

It is the ‘working people’ who keep the town alive and vibrant and sustainable.

(Note: the politicians’ salaries do not suffer; they are not being retrenched and replaced by machines – yet).

I live in a country town and have lived in regional cities, as well as Sydney. Employment in regional centres and country towns is critical to the survival of the town, and in this respect, I believe that Local Government and State Government entities need to maintain and increase staff rather than decrease it, because they are losing so much more than they gain, by “downsizing” and cost cutting.

If the people leave town, then there are less rates coming in as well. Empty shops, many houses and properties for sale, create a forlorn atmosphere and then the visitors stop coming also – so no outside money coming in either.

Every one of us needs to consider, not just the economic implications of the current trend of cost cutting and downsizing, but the broader social repercussions throughout the communities in particular, and the whole system in general.

If you have a  job, but don’t really like it, find as many things to appreciate in your job each day – until you find a better job – if you can – that you do enjoy.

It is a whole lot better than the alternative.  Apart from the hassle of having to deal with Centrelink, the Centrelink pay is atrocious and barely enough to even subsist on.

If you are lucky it will pay for your rent, electricity, gas and water and some food – not a lot.  You may be able to stretch it to pay for a phone, but running a car is a luxury, as are new clothes, and just pray you don’t need a dentist or a doctor – very few bulk bill.

I repeat:
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

But also, maybe we should also be interested in fighting to help other people keep their jobs too.  I believe we have a social responsibility to the bigger picture,  the vast economical and social implications of cost-cutting.

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