I woke up the other night, covered in sweat and screaming from a dreadful dystopian nightmare about FIFO work in a ‘Sliding Doors’ alternate world. It’s taken me a day or two to realise it’s not real and couldn’t possibly happen, in fact, it’s actually so off the planet and stupid, I thought I’d share it with everyone.
It all seemed familiar – lying on my bed in the donga, looking at jobs on Seek, when a half way interesting job popped up. ‘MC Driver FIFO 2/1, excellent pay and conditions, apply now,’ I did.
Next thing I know, I’m outside the offices of Concheater Labour Hire. It really was very impressive, pot plants and uniformed officious office girls everywhere. An imperious young woman sneered at me and said “How can I help you?”
I mumbled that I had an appointment to see a Wattic Hunt. “Take this file, sit over there and fill them out”. It was quite strange, there was a quarter of a page dedicated to previous experience and four pages dedicated to any previous “This Prick Got Injured at Work” claims. (You can already see how removed from reality this is – prospective employers in the real world are not allowed to ask about prior claims).
Writing NA across those four pages, I signed the paperwork with a flourish and took it to the counter. A very busy receptionist interrupted her phone call and in a complete change of tone (she’d been talking up the benefits of Concheater to somebody) frowned at me and said petulantly, “Sit down over there (pointing with a ballpoint to a seat opposite), Mr Hunt will be with you shortly!”
I felt I should have apologised for being there, but didn’t want to take up any more of her precious time, so I meekly sat and waited as instructed.
“Greg? Good to see you, c’mon in, I’m Wattic Hunt.” I was fascinated, I was sure I’d met his twin brother at a used car yard in Victoria Park. We sat down in a boardroom – phones and laptops in the middle of the oval table, very plush chairs and water and glasses. Wattic was smiling at me. “Let’s have a look at your file” and so saying, he scanned through the pages. Then looking up at me, in a very serious tone, he said, “Our client is a major transport supplier to the mining industry, the position is only for the most experienced operators, so, what have you driven? Three trailers, four, or just two?”
I couldn’t resist, though I knew I should, “I must admit I’ve never driven trailers, only prime movers.” Wattic looked incredulous, then fixed me with a stare.
“We take our work very seriously, Concheater has a name as the number one supplier of experienced labour to the mining industry. We only hire the best and most professional people!”
“I’m with you,” I replied, “That’s why I corrected the mistake. Five.”
Wattic put his pen down and looked at me, completely puzzled, “Five?”
“Five trailers,” I replied, “One of them a power trailer.”
“We don’t have five trailers listed,” he said suspiciously, “And our client is a major provider of transport solutions to the mining industry!” I could see that not only was my humour not going down well with Wattic, but also his knowledge of the industry was wanting. “Were you a road train driver before?” I asked.
“No, my expertise is in the vital areas of Health and Safety and Human Resources,” Wattic somewhat disdainfully replied. I should have left then, but for some mad reason, I seemed glued to my seat. “So you’ve driven Kenworths and Roadranger boxes I see? And you’ve done FIFO work before, from your records?”
“When could you start? Our client has vacancies available immediately.”
“Well, I could start next week, if that was required, can I ask who the job is with?” Wattic looked across at me, then, with a tone inviting applause, he said, “The position is with Rollover Logistics at Wattafuckup mine site, you’ll be carting unprocessed bulldust on a haul road to the railhead, Concheater are the preferred supplier, should you prove suitable, at some point, you will be offered full time employment!”
“Sounds good,” I replied, “What’s the hourly rate?”
“$39.00, it’s 12hr shifts, 2/1, we pay weekly, you get your timesheet signed by the Rollover Logistics supervisor and faxed through to our office.”
“Hang on,” I said, “Drivers for Rollover are paid $40.00per hour and they get holiday and sick pay, I assume you’re not paying that?”
“Certainly not!” he indignantly said, “You’ll be casual labour hire on one hour’s notice, this is your chance to join a reputable company!”
“So you can fire me with one hour’s notice?” I said
“Of course!” replied Wattic, “This is the modern era of supply and demand and the other big advantage for you, is that you only need to give us an hour’s notice. You’ve got nothing to fear and everything to gain, you’re at the vanguard of the future for the mining industry, free to work where and when you want, soon everyone will be working under this system!”
“Are you on this system?” I asked.
“Of course not!” replied Wattic, “I’m management, you’re labour, this is labour hire remember, the system is both cost and staffing efficient, everyone loves it.”
A thought occurred to me, “What happens when the site is rained out? Do I get paid?”
Wattic smiled wearily at me, “I don’t think you understand Greg, we’re talking about efficiency and the use of resources, if it rains, you don’t work, therefore you don’t get paid, what could be fairer than that? If the rain sets in for two or three days, we stand you down.”
I looked at him, “Wattic, on a mine site, you have to report for work, blow in the breath tester and sign on. You then wait until a decision is made about work. That can be three or four, maybe more hours later.”
I could see Wattic was becoming impatient with me, “Greg, if you’re sent back to the camp after three or four hours, you won’t have done any work will you? There’s TV to watch, go to the gym – you could do with losing some weight. Come to think of it, we’d better book you a medical. Now we like to think we treat our people fairly, we book the medical, you pay for it, the cost is about $650.00 – see the girls at the desk, they’ll take your credit card. If you fail, well, that’s your problem. But! If you pass, after working for us for three months, we’ll refund the cost to you! It doesn’t get much better. Oh, did I mention that you get three shirts, which of course you have to pay for if you leave before three months is up.”
“Hmm,” I stammered, “Do I get pants, a jacket, boots and water bottles etc?”
“Greg!” said the by now thoroughly exasperated Wattic, “I’m offering you a chance to work with a major player in the Australian mining industry, you have to understand, you need to contribute yourself.”
I looked at Wattic, “Mr Hunt,” I said, “From what I understand, you’re offering me a position where I’m on one hour’s notice of being retrenched, working for $1.00 an hour less than the fulltime people I’ll be working with, doing exactly the same job. They’ll get holiday pay and sick pay, but I won’t and I’ll have to supply most of my own PPE and pay for my own medical?”
“Don’t forget the super!” He smiled triumphantly, “You get paid super on 38 hours per week!”
“Hang on”, I replied, “Isn’t it a 12 hour shift, seven days a week, two on, one off?”
“That’s correct,” said Wattic, “That’s a lot of money at $39.00 per hour!”
“But I’ll be working an 84 hour week, not 38 hours!”
“Greg, Greg, Greg!” said Wattic, shaking his head, “You’ll be working on penalty rates, so under Australian Federal law, you’re only entitled to super on 38 hours a week. I tell you what, how good is the Liberal Government! Business mate, business! That’s why we’re able to offer these wonderful opportunities to people such as yourself. And your fellow workers voted for them, they could see the benefits of changing to labour hire, everybody wins. I tell you what the Church should replace the Virgin Mary with Michaelia Cash, how good is she?”
“Ah,” I replied, thinking I’d understood, “So I only get super on 38 hours, but I get penalty rates, so, everything over 7.5 hours is time and half and double time etc, that’s fair on the $39.00 per hour. I’ll accept that.”
Wattic leapt to his feet. “Mate, what the hell are you playing at? I can see why you’re a truck driver, this is all a bit too much for you. Let me explain.” He sat back down, the sweat still visible on his brow. “Your pay rate is the very generous $39.00 per hour, that is made up of a base rate of $29.50 per hour, it’s amortised and rounded up to the $39.00.”
I sat there dumbfounded. “Mr Hunt, you’re telling me my actual rate is $29.50 per hour, working FIFO at a mine site for two weeks? I can earn $33,00 an hour plus penalties driving a road train around Perth, why the fuck would I accept your offer? It’s bloody theft! I tell you what Mr Wattic Hunt, Concheater are cunning as shit house rats, labour hire is a term for ripping working people off. You bastards want years of experience before you’ll even consider anyone, then you offer them $10.00 an hour less than an MC driver can earn driving around Perth?” By now I was aware I was shouting, banging the boardroom table with my fist, Wattic was calling the police, alarms were ringing and two burley security guards came barging in, “What’s up bro?” one of them called out. I yelled back, “This world is fucked, it’s bullshit!” They closed in on me.
Next thing I know, my wife is stroking my head, saying, “Calm down, you must have had a nightmare, it’s OK!” and she gave me a kiss. I told her what I’d dreamt, she laughed and said, “No chance, this is Oz, the land of the fair go.”