Jobs, jobs, jobs seems to be the theme of the day. After reading that Microsoft has announced that 5,000 jobs are to go (the first mass layoffs in its 34-year history), and Sony signalling bigger than expected losses ahead ($US2.9 billion, the first in 14 years) this article from the Sydney Morning Herald seems to sum up the situation with wit and gritty humour. I suspect we’ll start to read the Kiwi equivalents soon enough:
It is Monday morning and I’m due back at work. The boss tells me there is no work and I’m sent home. No work. No pay. When I come in on Wednesday, he tells me it’s not a good time. I glance at his computer screen. He’s surfing.
On Thursday, I ask him again if he’s ready to talk. He stands up, walks to the door slowly and closes it. He sits behind his desk and tells me they can afford to employ me, on average, only 19 hours a week. I am not surprised, but I am disgusted.
I become more disgusted when the implications start to fix in my brain. Nineteen hours times $21. I scan the newspapers for job ads. There are no job ads but plenty of consumer ads.
I think of two colleagues who were called in during the past six months and told not to come back. One of them was also a single parent. I think about how paltry my single objection to this woman’s sacking was.
I have been without income for 10 days. I contact Centrelink. When I get there everything is green: walls, carpets, counter. Green is supposed to be the restful colour but it doesn’t get much of a chance here. Large-screen TVs blare at the huddles of waiting people. There are queues everywhere. I decide to join the shortest one.
Silly me. Wrong queue. I start again.
The second time I come into Centrelink I know what I’m doing. I have an appointment so I join the short queue.
When I get to the front of the queue, the woman on the other side of the counter greets me by name and looks at me as if she is quite pleased that I’ve entered her world.
I notice these things because in between Centrelink appointments I’ve been required to attend my “employment provider”. The person who greeted me there did not look at me or use my name. This was surprising because while I was there, I was subjected to six replays of a DVD which emphasises the importance of first impressions. “It’s like a first date,” the voice on the DVD shouted at me. “You only get one shot at it.”
A fellow job seeker and his mother were even less impressed as the DVD replayed again and again. “If they ever come back, I’ll ask them to turn it off,” I offered. But when they did come back, they would have none of it.
I suggested turning it down. “Nah, it’s set at that level.”
The woman at Centrelink directs me to a pod of bright red chairs under a screaming screen. Then a woman I’ll call Romany comes to my rescue. It doesn’t take long to discover that despite all the information I provided, my claim cannot be processed.
Romany rings him. He is unable to take her call. I hear her saying it is important and she will wait. I am buoyed by someone being on my side. Romany is letting the company have it. She says it is totally unacceptable to not have the information there, that no, it can’t be dealt with later; there are six more families waiting for her services before lunch, that I have already been sent away once and I need my payment processed.
Romany is a hero. She tells me that she can’t bear the thought of these people having so much control over other people’s lives, telling people there’s no work and then not doing a thing about it.
When I finish, I walk over to a friend I saw in the long queue, one of the most talented men I know. I tell him about my frustrations with my employer, the ineptness and the rudeness of the service providers, my impatience with the waiting. But I tell him about Romany, too.
He thinks I’m lucky. “It was six months before I met someone like that, Annie,” he says. “You’re thinking too much. Just go through the process.”
I resolve that I will. I get my resume happening. I draft a couple of covering letters, ready to adapt them to the first job ads I see this year. I add up the hours that I have spent seeking employment services during this single week; in queues, waiting for appointments, answering questions, filling out forms, creating my rÃ©sumÃ© and letters. It is just over 19 hours. There’s symmetry in that.
Anne Gleeson is now a part-time funeral director.