Two depressingly similar tales from two old friends, both employers. One was born above the Tilling Green shop many years ago and now runs a business in Scotland, the other is a farmer just outside town on the edge of the marsh; both of them are dependent on reliable labour.
“You must be lucky with yours,” I said to my friend in Scotland. “Everyone works hard up north.”
He laughed without mirth. “They worked when they wanted, at their own pace. They spent half the day texting and talking into their hands; made every job last as long as possible and monstered out on overtime. And when they had something better to do, they’d telephone in sick – at nine in the morning when it was too late to make other arrangements.”
“Your use of the past tense suggests they’re no longer with you?”
“I put up with it for four years. Six months ago I sacked all five of them.”
“I hired one Pole and two Czechs.”
“The three of them do the same work as five in half the time and to a higher standard. My output doubled in just three months.”
A few weeks later I met my farmer friend at a village summer fair. “I saw a stranger drive your combine last autumn. Doesn’t Buggins work for you any more?”
“Neither Buggins nor Sid, nor Nobby nor Arthur” (Buggins and Sid were full-time, the other two seasonal).
“They got tired of work. I mean, it’s really hard sweat in a centrally-heated cab with a satellite steering the damn thing, a radio, a fridge and a TV.”
I could almost guess already:
“I hired two Polish boys. And now they do everything, regular and seasonal. Clean work and dirty work. They’re not boys really. They have their own young families back home. I make sure they take the bus back every two months. They pay their English taxes; they’re never ill; they send their earnings back home; their children are schooled back home. They cost our country nothing. And they work hard. They like to work hard.”
Is it then surprising that the G7 countries excluding the UK are on average 17 per cent more productive than the UK?
“Ci vuole la fame,” my Sicilian father-in-law used to say. “People need to feel hungry again.”
Yes, starve them back to work! Oh my god! Do you think the Tories might be right?!
*Names, of course, have been changed.