Sunday, July 10, 2005


There is little chance that machines will ever replace people in the workplace and here’s why. Machines have to be transported at company cost to and from where they’re needed and kept safe once they’re there. Machines need tender treatment, they break down, they can’t be rushed and hurried or the contents of their “brains” explode for no reason at all (OK this sometimes happens to humans too), but most working people are trained to deliver themselves to and from work at their own expense, suitably dressed and equipped and perky enough to convince an employer to part with a paycheck. We spring for our own electric fencing, tasers, pepper spray and car alarms, we pay for most of our own nutrition and hydration, we’re the ultimate self-maintaining device but that really just isn’t good enough for today’s employers. Having taken most of a finger, they’ll have the hand and the rest of the arm too.

Chief Executive of the UK environmental agency, one Baroness Young is now urging staff to go down to their local M&S and buy thermal underwear so that employers can save on their heating costs. While I’m all for cutting down on the use of fossil fuels, why must I shell out of my own pocket so my employer doesn’t have the trauma of seeing me blue and shivering and bundled up like Nanook of the North when it’s his job to keep me toasty while I work on his premises? What next? Bring your own toilet flushing water? I’ve worked in places where you are expected to bring your own chair! When last did you find actual soft white two-ply toilet paper in the staff loo instead of that ghostly blue stuff that dissolves on contact with liquids?

It all started with the coffee thing. Time was when you sauntered over to the coffee pot and had a cup of fresh beverage that didn’t taste like floor sweepings. Then someone decided nothing could be added to the bottom line by dropping pearls before swine, and you are now expected to consume the very basic cheapest instant unspeakable chicory blend. I once worked for a guy who did not accept the fact that some people might like a spot of milk in their swill so he imposed a milk limit, with the result that the milk ran out by mid month and we resorted to the dreaded Cremora, which came to be known as “dust”.

Fancy some dust with your floor sweepings? I think I’ll bring my own, and that’s really what it’s all about. Bring your own, sucker, cos it’s swill or water out of the tap. That staff canteen where you used to get a decent meal at a reasonable price? Kiss that one goodbye, you’ll get a food court with Steers and a coffee shop where you can buy your own fancy pants coffee for R15.

It doesn’t stop there, apparently some companies believe that All Your Cellphones Are Belong to Us! You have your cellphone, which you bought and paid for yourself, right, and every now and then you buy a bit of juice to keep it topped up or maybe you’re paying those crushing “contract” bills, but you somehow have the quaint belief that it’s actually yours. Not so! Your number goes on the staff list or intranet and you are expected to take calls from all and sundry when you you’re sitting with a head full of foil twists at the hairdressers on a Saturday.

And then comes M-Web with an ad designed to help companies find out if their employees are surfing the Net when they should be working. I don’t know if this ad is supposed to be charmingly tongue in cheek, it’s done in a cartoony style, but M-Web advises companies who suspect their employees may be abusing their privileges to “employ an undercover IT guy to pose as a new member of staff. His brief : Win the confidence of the staff and cajole them into telling him which sites they surf and into sending him large mail attachments that may be clogging up the system. These can then be used as evidence against the perpetrators.”

Struth Bob, watch out for the new guy!

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