“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.