Nagging Guilt

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


Remembering a misdeed for a long time.

Submitted: February 19, 2018

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Submitted: February 19, 2018

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Back in the day, if you had a job in rural areas, it was usually secure but country folk didn’t earn big bucks, it was a crust, enough, because their wants were modest by today’s standard. But the only certainty in life, other than bills, is change, and change eventually came to Henry and his forest worker crew. Most of his men were older, and few were returned servicemen who had rekindled their lives in the rural township. That’s not to say they didn’t do a fair days work, they were too proud not to! After all, nearly twenty thousand acres of production forest, from scratch, doesn’t just pop up out of a sea of bracken fern and gorse without a good amount of manual labour! Most of the men were in their late fifties, or beyond, so after a lifetime of hard physical work and the stresses they had faced, their bones were becoming creaky. Retirement age in those days was at sixty, and many were hanging in until the clock ticked by. Pride in their forest meant that they weren’t going to sit on their arses half the day and it was Henry’s job to make sure they didn’t.

On the other hand, respect for his men meant that he wasn’t inclined to crack the whip. His bosses, young and upper-comers, had different ideas, they wanted to incentivise workers for more output, a synonym for cracking the whip. Work Study became the catchword, and Henry was sent up to the Forestry Training Centre to learn all about it. Measuring work content was fair enough and the methodology for setting bonus target was also fair, but he found that a few extra bob to make men work harder, was not a motivating factor for his crew!

So they resisted the implementation of bonus schemes just long enough for the oldest of the men to retire, but there was plenty of stick from Henry’s bosses! In the end, threatened with a heavy hand, he acquiesced and implemented bonus schemes. The bonus scheme was reasonable enough for fitter, younger men and it was based on a lot of research. It was all about work measurement, with various allowances applied for a target to be set. Extra pay, above the basic hourly rate depended on the percentage of the target achieved. It was Henry’s job to set the targets and he had to justify them to his workers and to his bosses. He was the meat.

Onwards some forty-odd years, when strolling along the main street, Henry bumped into Greg, one of his ex-workers, well actually not one of his workers rather one of the men he was compelled to employ. Successive governments found it a good political ploy to have a low employment rate, but at the end of the season, when freezing workers (meat workers) flooded the dole queue, upsetting their numbers. Therefore, regardless of the problems it caused forest managers, politicians forced state-owned forests to take on manpower they didn’t really need or want. They were spending taxpayers’ money, so the unwanted recruits were required perform just as well as the rest of Henry’s crew. But they were expecting a bit of a holiday doing government work, as the urban myth went! Their union at the time was the strongest in the land and Greg had been the union delegate.

Henry asked Greg how he was, the usual way to start off a conversation. Greg’s reply flummoxed Henry, ‘I’m dying,’ he said flatly, ‘I had bowel cancer about ten years ago, and it went into remission, but now it’s back and has spread through most of my body. The only thing that’s keeping me going is those god-awful drugs!’

‘Shit!’ exclaimed Henry, ‘That’s a bugger Greg, I’m sorry to hear that! How long have you got?’

‘They reckon no more than a month.’ Greg replied, ‘The last while has been tough on the whole family.’ With that, he held his out hand, and Henry took it in both of his.

‘I wanted to apologise to you.’ He said.

‘For what?’ The apology puzzled Henry.

‘For causing you trouble when I was working for you.’ He replied. ‘I was young and fiery in those days, and the others were egging me on. I know you were just doing your job, and now I realise you were trying to be fair, so I’m sorry.’

Henry flipped the pages in his memory library and recalled the incident. It was about a bonus target that he had set, and the freezing worker crew thought it was too tough, so elected to work just on wages. Henry agreed to that but said that if they didn’t achieve seventy five percent of the target, they would be back on the dole queue! Greg went to the freezing workers union, instead of the forest workers’ because they thought their union conquered all! The union went straight to the Ministry and word filtered down to district office but the District Ranger didn’t even confer with Henry.

‘Henry was being too soft.’ He bit back at the union, ‘I have instructed Henry, that if they don’t achieve eighty percent of the target, they can re-join the bloody dole queue!’

In the event the crew decided to accept the extra money the bonus target allowed and achieved over one hundred percent week in week out!

‘I had forgotten about the incident,’ Henry assured Greg, ‘which means I have forgiven you long since! All that sort of thing was part of my job, facing a problem, sorting it and moving on. Never paid to hold a grudge. Forget it.’

They shook hands again and Henry wished him well.

Greg’s death notice was in the newspaper some three weeks later. 


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