The company I work for uses `casual labour’ to fill out the workforce. The usual term is `temps’, for temporary worker. These are contract workers from employment agencies. There are six full-time machine operators on my shift, and there are at any time from six to ten `casual labourers’ to fill out the roster.
That’s right, full-time workers are out-numbered by temps.
Now, in theory at least, contract workers are supposed to put in 480 hours of work, and then either be hired or let go; that works out to three months. That’s how it worked for me five years ago; I started in the spring, was hired in the summer, and worked out my probationary period by autumn. The reality is that in a surplus labour economy such as currently exists, the company might simply extend your contract and keep you at temp wages and no benefits for as long as they see fit.
One co-worker called temps ‘goldfish’. When I asked why, she said it was based on their transient nature and ease of replacement, how they only last fifteen minutes then they’re gone and you go get a new one. Now that I’ve been there five years, I know what she’s talking about; I’ve found myself, more than once, referring to a new temp as New Guy right to his face.
A couple of weeks ago I was training two new temps at the same time, I called one `New Guy’ and the other one ‘Other New Guy’ to their face. When ‘Other New Guy’ mildly complained, I told him that if they were still there in a week I might bother to learn their names. It’s a couple weeks later, they’re both gone and we’ve had others come and go in the meantime. I do wonder from time to time if my open lack of respect of them actually makes them move on, then I remember, ‘goldfish’.
Over the years here, I’ve lost track of the number of temp workers who have come and gone. I lost track in the first year, four more just add to the blur. Scores easily, hundreds probably, have come for a day, a week, a month, nine months, then they’re gone. The problem is that every one of them needed and got training on however many jobs they were assigned to, taking up hours of my and other workers’ time, and now they’re gone and the training time is wasted. There have actually been times I’ve wanted to just tell some dim-witted, slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breather to simply stand there out of my way while I did the job because they weren’t going to be asked to come back.
Although, in the blur of bodies, there have been a few who did manage to be memorable, though not often for positive reasons. There were two different older gents, who went code blue on us and required an ambulance to be called. They didn’t die, they just passed out. There was the jittery guy who we’re pretty sure was on some illegal stimulant, because a baggie containing some white crystalline powder and a rolled up piece of paper was found on a table kind of behind his machine. It might have been sugar, but it got tossed out anyway. There was rooster-crow guy, who would, at random, emit a startlingly life-like imitation of a rooster. Then there’s the clone of Richard Simmons who actually left in the middle of one shift literally crying and accusing the most inoffensive lady I know of ‘destroying his confidence’.
We had a temp last year who had his contract fully extended twice and wound up working for us for nine months before realizing that he wasn’t going to get hired; it was even his second round of working here as a temp. I think it was the fact that three or four other temps were hired in those nine months that finally clued him in.
I actually felt bad for him, he liked to do a particularly s**t job that no one else likes, and did it well. I felt that we should have hired him on that basis alone. I think it was his background in automotive that did him in. He wanted, and expected, to do the same job day in and day out for months or years. However, the Powers That Be, feel that all workers should be able to perform a majority of the jobs before being hired, and he was kind of a one-and-a-half trick pony.
In my experience the majority of temps want to move into a full-time position. Those are usually the ones you want to keep around as long as possible; hopefully have the company hire on full-time. Then you get the ones who seem to make a living, marginal at best, by drifting from place to place. They just want to skate by and collect a pay cheque. Those are the ones you desperately hope get arrested, strip-searched, and deported; preferably to some third-world country where they get thrown in jail.
The most difficult temps to deal with are those who do want to make it through their contracts to a full-time position, but just don’t have the candle-power of a brain-damaged chimpanzee. They need special handling. On the one hand you reassure them that the company does actually hire temps, but on the other you think to yourself what a hypocrite you are for raising their hopes when you know they don’t have a chance.
I have a kind of code I use to rate temps: clueless, useless, hopeless, worthless, and pointless. All temps, by definition get clueless; they’re coming into a job they generally know nothing about. I was that way when I started out here. Useless temps are those whose cluelessness is persistent and/or permanent. Hopeless indicates persistent clueless and useless behaviour in spite of all efforts by the temp in question. Worthless is someone who is all of the previous and isn’t even trying.
Pointless should be self-explanatory. They’re the ones you want to slap a label on reading ‘Contaminated Scrap. Discard at once. Do not reuse. Do not recycle.’