When I left school, 40 years ago this week, (I know you’re all saying “But Alfie, how can that be so when you look so YOUNG?” – and I thank you for that!) I didn’t have to struggle too hard to get a job.
Even though it wasn’t what I would have chosen, A) if I had known what else was out there in the world, B) if I had REALLY thought about it, C) if I had got enough GCE “O” levels to join the Royal Air Force, and D) if I had known then what my IQ and, therefore, my potential was.
Nevertheless it was a job and I could, had I wished, have made a career in the Civil Service and become one of the bureaucrats that I so passionately hate now! It would have been a “job for life” and I would by now have very probably taken early retirement on a disproportionately large pension.
However, as I have related elsewhere, I moved from the Inland Revenue to Barclays Bank’s Income Tax advisory subsidiary and this too was regarded in the far off days of 1974 as a “job for life”.
The job may have been for life but unfortunately the “life” in question was the life of the Company NOT the employees because in early 1998 the bank kindly sold off the tax bit to a bunch of complete strangers!
We were required to vacate the nice offices we’d moved into four years earlier and move into a new building about a mile away but nothing else seemed to have changed – all our pay, benefits, etc. continued as before and we still (and I don’t mean this as a good thing) had the same Managers, some of whom were now Directors.
It took them a whole eight months to decide that we weren’t making enough profit from the remaining tax cases (a huge percentage had said that if it wasn’t a bank doing their Tax Returns they would go to “proper” accountants!) left to them. Instead of doing the obvious thing of reducing the number of “chiefs”, the board appointed an “Infrastructure Manager” at a salary about three times mine to make changes to increase profitability.
It was fairly obvious from the start that he wasn’t going to alienate the top end of the structure by getting rid of fellow Managers (except for those who had openly resisted the draconian regime set up when we centralised in Peterborough in 1993 and who were, therefore, considered “unreliable”) and, sure enough he didn’t.
Instead he went for cutting three managers and the sixteen most senior of the clerical staff, (i.e. those on the top of their pay scales) thereby removing a great deal of knowledge and experience from the company – but knowledge and experience don’t show up on a balance sheet!
The clerical staff, myself included, were very generously permitted to apply for two unfilled vacancies at the next grade DOWN from where we then were but only four of us (the family men with mortgages) were prepared to swallow our pride and do this.
Curiously the four in question were all members of one or other of the two teams that, each year, entered the Barclays Bank Inter-District Sea Angling match and it turned out that we would all be away at the 1998 event in Dover when the results of the board of directors’ deliberations were to be made known.
They insisted that we still went on the trip, showing a calming air of “business as usual” to the other staff and getting those of us making ominous threats of Trade Union action out of the way for a couple of days! We were told that we should stay in touch with the one of our number who owned a mobile phone (how things have changed in ten years!) and we would be called as and when a decision was made.
I recorded in the journal I write concerning this fishing match each year that I spent most of that trip in a kind of mental fog because the axe was raised and I was, frankly, scared stiff of what would happen to my house and my family if I was to be thrown on the scrapheap after nearly thirty years of continuous employment!
The bit I DO definitely remember of that fishing trip occurred at about 5pm on the day of the match.
We had been fishing on Dover Breakwater, the long wall across most of the harbour, which is not connected to dry land at all and which can only be reached by a small boat which ferries anglers out and back.
The boat had brought us back to the floating pontoon in the marina and the tide was out meaning that we had to then lug all of our tackle about twenty feet up a steep set of wet, weed covered stone steps to ground level. We were just picking up our gear on the very unstable pontoon prior to attempting the dangerous climb when THE mobile went off.
The Managing Director had chosen that moment to call with the results and spoke to each of us in turn. The owner of the mobile phone was saved as was another colleague who was actually married to one of the Managers (so no great surprise there!) but I was OUT! For the first time in my life I had been made REDUNDANT!!
We suggested to the MD when we got back that if he had waited one minute more before calling that he could have saved the redundancy payments completely – the shock could have had us falling off that staircase fully loaded with tackle and heavy clothing into twenty feet of freezing salt water!
I won’t bore you with the details of the vicious legal battle we had (and won) for more reasonable compensation (if the jobs had been cut while we were still at Barclays we would have got about four times what we ended up with) but after a period of very depressing unemployment and some temporary work I fetched up working nights in the IT Department of a food processing company in Corby.
Things went well there (once I got back onto “days” after a year or so) until the start of 2004 when the company got taken over by one of the major food manufacture and retail companies. They in their infinite wisdom decided that a job that had kept three of us going full-time could more easily be done by a call centre 100 miles away and a roving technician who had to cover every site of theirs in the southern half of England! I got made redundant again!
This lot were more generous in that they worked out our statutory redundancy payments, doubled them and then added a bonus AND pay in lieu of notice!
After two years of doing contract IT jobs (insecure but more than ten times better pay than Jobseekers allowance!) I fetched up here in the fens amongst hundreds of tons of potatoes in February 2006. And here I have remained since. Until now!
Last Friday, mainly because we have to pay the Farmers for their spuds while the Supermarket chains feel no obligation to pay US for the product we supply, the company went into Administration.
This means that as of 3.40 pm last Friday we are run by accountants who know nothing of our business and are therefore considered better qualified than the staff and Directors to run it!
My manager, Mike, and I were summoned to a meeting at 4 pm on Friday, just as we were packing up for the weekend, and told that certain people would be “let go” immediately while others would remain to keep things going while they collected our debts and paid our creditors.
One of the “Administrators” (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the bloke who made that call in Dover!) read out a list of names, mine included, to go to another room where we were told we were “saved” – for now anyway.
Not so Mike my manager, a married man with three children and a mortgage, who was out the door with no notice and with statutory redundancy to be claimed direct from the Government.
You may have got the idea from my writings that I don’t tend to like Managers very much and this has been true in the past. Mike, however, has been brilliant – I’ve learned a lot from him and have got on really well on a personal level too! Typical! Just when I find a Manager I can work with, they take him away! I REALLY do wish him well and hope he finds something more stable very soon.
As for me I AM the IT Department for the company now but it is a bit like being told “We’ve given you a lifeboat but we KNOW it’s got a hole in it and we don’t know how long it will last!” so I’m looking even harder for another job myself.
I find that I’m no longer afraid of the “R” word and they can make me redundant any time the mood takes them!
Maybe it’s time for something new? I’ll keep you informed. Meanwhile, keep watching this space.