There’s the tale of a lad who went for a job on a farm. The old farmer who interviewed him asked what he could do. The lad replied ‘Everything.’
‘Can you milk cows?’
‘Yes, no worries.’
‘Can you plough?’
‘As good a ploughman as you’ll find anywhere.’
‘Can you clip sheep?’
‘Won competitions for it.’
By this time the old lad felt he ought to bring the cocky little beggar down a bit so he asked, somewhat sardonically, ‘Can you wheel smoke in a barrow?’
To which the prospective employee replied, ‘You shovel it, I’ll wheel it.’
It’s a while now since I last employed anybody. The seven pound weight of the bumper fun-pack we got sent by the tax authorities when we took on our first employee ensured that that was a mistake I’d never make again.
But of those who did work for us, either on a training scheme or as proper employees, by and large they were a decent bunch of young people that I’d cheerfully recommend to anyone.
We had one lass who had the makings of first rate cowman, but went on to be an ambulance paramedic. I like to think the livestock handling skills we taught her were invaluable in her new profession.
We had another lad who stood about four foot six in his stocking feet. When he first arrived we went into a field to collect a cow and her new-born calf. At this point the other seventy cows all noticed what was going on and came running across to look. If I hadn’t caught the lad by the shoulder as he turned to flee we’d probably never have seen him again. But a week later he went into the collecting yard to get me a brush, and as he came back through seventy milk cows, all I could see was the brush, like a periscope, passing in-between them.
But the relationship between employee and employer is predominantly an economic relationship. If in the hour I pay them £10 for, they don’t at least add £10 to the value of the business, eventually I have ‘let them go’ or the business will fail. It’s that simple.
Now the value they add needn’t be in widgets punched out or sales targets achieved. I’ve talked to receptionists who were well worth their salary. They didn’t directly add to the balance sheet, but the way they greeted people, made them feel welcome, and ensured they got through to the right person as fast as possible gave me a positive feeling about the company.
Mind you I also remember phoning one company just before Christmas. The receptionist had been left to man (or woman) the telephones whilst all the rest of the staff had gone out to the staff Christmas do. But one of her friends had slipped her a bottle (at least one) of martini.
By the time I, in all innocence, phoned, she’d drunk most of the first bottle. So when I asked to speak to Mr So-and-so, she proceeded to tell me, in excruciating detail, about his sexual proclivities, dubious business practices and problems with personal hygiene. She then expanded her tirade to include the other partners, and was working her way through her ‘co-workers’ before I realised I’d been on the phone for over half an hour listening to this PR version of the slow motion car crash.
But the economics work both ways. If you’re a good lad, clean driving licence, used to handling machinery, sensible, then you’re probably worth more to me that someone who turns up with half a dozen degrees and other qualifications, a drink problem and an inability to work out which end of a fork is which.
Which I suppose brings us onto Lord Freud with his ‘Disabled people not worth paying the minimum wage’.
In some jobs and with some people, from the employer’s point of view he is right. It’s the person and the job. I know one cowman who had an artificial hand. I’ve known people with severe physical problems who’ve made excellent accountants and finance officers.
But looking at my business there are handicapped people who I couldn’t afford to employ at the minimum wage because however wonderful they are as people, they aren’t going to fetch in enough to cover the cost of employing them.
Now a lot of people get upset at this. But they’re confusing two things. Somebody’s economic value to a business and somebody’s moral worth as a human being.
A handicapped person is as entitled to as much respect, care and compassion as anybody else.
But dumping them in a minimum wage job they cannot really do, claiming you’ve ‘empowered’ them and forgetting about them is not respect, care, or compassion.
The economic value of a potential employee is for me, as the employer to determine.
The moral value of somebody as a person is for ‘Society’ to determine. But if ‘Society’ consists of people who just want to foist the cost of their preconceptions onto somebody else to pay, so that they can bask in the smug glow of their moral superiority, ‘Society’ ain’t worth jack.