Secretarial: The Temp: Time for action

THERE'S GOING to be no work done this lunch time because Heartstone Futures have announced, after sacking 20 per cent of the staff last month, that their jobs are to be shared out among everyone left, increasing their workload by 25 per cent. The chairman and the chief executive have, coincidentally, received 17 per cent pay rises.

Management are using phrases like "tough decisions", "global recession", "if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem".

The employees, meanwhile, with the prospect of seeing less of their families, more of each other and no change to their pay packets, have called a union meeting.

I'm a great believer in the union movement, but have never had the opportunity either to join one or to attend a meeting, there being no union for downtrodden temporary workers (and if there were, I'm not sure what we'd discuss: the plenty-more-where-you-came-from rule, perhaps?), so I was thrilled when Candy suggested I might want to come and watch.

I should have remembered that we live in an age where The Strawbs' satire on Seventies workforce obduracy, "Part of the Union", is used, seemingly without irony, as an advertising jingle for personal pensions.

Sally, union rep, waited until everyone had stopped gossiping, then said: "Well, we've a lot to get through. Does anyone want to kick off the debate on the new proposals?" and a profound silence fell. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to stand out. Finally, someone put their hand up and Sally gave him the floor.

"I think we should vote on whether to discuss the matter," he said to the group.

"Thanks, Ken," said Sally. "Does anyone want to second that?"

A young woman put her hand up.

"OK, thanks, Jan. All in favour?"

"No," said Jan, "I wasn't seconding. I was going to say that it was a waste of time to vote on it." About 15 people heaved sighs.

"Good point," said Sally. "But it's been proposed now, and if we start a debate on whether or not to vote on this, we'll never get to debate the proposals."

"Oh, yeah," said Jan. "Then I might as well just second it, then."

Everyone in voted in favour. Finally, Ken stood up and started the ball rolling.

"I think it's a disgrace," he said. "They can't seriously expect us to take this lying down. I work more than my contracted hours as it is. We must do something."

"Anyone else?" said Sally.

"Yes." A lad with spots over by the kitchen hatch stuck his hand up. "I just want to say that they can't be allowed to treat us like this. I don't want to work extra hours for no more money, and I'm sure nobody else does, either."

And then the floodgates opened. Once a couple of people had had their say, everyone, it seemed, wanted to repeat them. The clock ticked away over Sally's head as voice after voice was added to the consensus: "It's a disgrace." "They can't get away with it." "I'm not paid enough as it is."

Lunch hour came to an end, and people started looking at their watches. And on droned the downtrodden: "My wife never sees me as it is"; "I worked 50 hours a week last month"; "Do they think we're machines?"

And I realised that the function of democracy in the Nineties is to give everyone so much opportunity to get their voice heard that they never have the time to take any action. Finally, people started edging toward the door, surreptitiously slipping their coats on, and Sally decided to call a halt.

"OK," she said. "So we take a vote on whether to take a ballot on whether to get the Electoral Reform society to run an official ballot on whether we censure the company. All those in favour? Against?

Motion carried.

"Now!" she yelled at the retreating backs, "we've some business left over from last time. If you remember, we had to stop before we could vote on whether to put the procedures in effect to take a ballot on censuring the company over the redundancies. Anyone got anything to add? No? OK, All those in... yes, Jack, you had

something to say...?"