Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's our time they're wasting

“More work, less coffee”, ran the headline on a letter in last Saturday’s Dom Post. The writer, Pete McMillen, made a point that I’ve raised a couple of times in columns. He pointed out that in Wellington, “taxpayers are forever footing the bill for coffees and muffins at myriad establishments, almost always bursting with smartly dressed business folk”.

Setting aside the curious fact that Wellington is now populated by people who seem incapable of doing a stroke of work without constant transfusions of caffeine, what’s irritating here is that, as the letter writer says, we’re the mugs who are picking up the tab, indirectly at least.

If private businesses are stupid enough to pay for their employees to idle away their working hours in cafés, that’s their concern. But many of the busiest cafés in Wellington are in parts of town where the dominant employer is the state. These are our employees, and they’re drinking and gossiping in our time.

Reading Pete McMillen's letter, my wife – who can usually be relied upon for clear-eyed common sense on issues like this – wondered whatever happened to tea ladies. In the only government job I ever had – working for The Listener in the Bowen State Building – we were served tea or coffee twice daily by a lugubrious woman named Mrs Nugent, whom I grew to know quite well. I guess the Mrs Nugents of the world have gone the same way as Humber 80s, 45 rpm records and Lamson tubes in department stores. But if the State Services Commission wanted to impress its political masters by boosting productivity and cutting costs, it would get the tea ladies – or refreshment facilitators as they’d have to be called now – back.


Anonymous said...

My first job was with The Post Office which then became Telecom. We had a tea lady AND a great cafeteria. I guess these days OSH or food safety or something would prohibit it - and teh consumers woudl want an espresso machine trundled around no doubt. However we also had very regular prescribed breaks that I've never had since in the private sector.

Truth Seeker said...

I worked at the NZ dairy Board for almost 8 years in the late 80s, ealry 90s. We had a tea lady who rolled a trolley around with hot water, tea, and buttered biscuits with sliced cheese on them. We would get up from our desks, pour a cuppa, grab some biscuits, chat for a few minutes, then get back to work.

But the new broom swept through and the tea lady became history. This engendered some resentment. Important to bear that in mind. Employees in such situations often resort to a passive-aggressive stance...and the long wander down the hall to get a cuppa became de rigeur. When coffee culture emerged, the long wander moved outside and took a bit longer. I'm sure the people doing it today may have lost sight of the "elastifying" effect of the passive-aggressive worker response to past high-handed, unilateral changes in conditions by employers. Those workers are now managers. Culture evolves. Past errors of judgement have future costs.

In the present context, what public servant is going to lift a finger for a future National party Minister who referred to them collectively as "useless wasters" and "parasites".

The job will get done.....after coffee.

Vaughan said...

Drat.. you have outed all of us who had found a great way to avoid that mundane form filling.

Ah well, I think I will become a phony smoker.

Everybody is too tolerant to tell smokers to get back into the office.