by Jason Gibbs
“Right, Jenkins, excellent, please sit, now, comfortable? Yes, good. Let me begin.”
Robert Jenkins looked at his boss. Mr Humphries was an imposing man. Built large, and gone rather to seed these days, he often seemed like a misfiring engine. A stuttering of words, and then he’d pause as if waiting for something, and then he’d continue without any obvious cause.
“Yes, so I think I should say up front that it’s a case of good news, and bad news. Now, let me begin, you are aware of the rainfall situation?”
“Uh, yes, it’s been average this year I believe?” said Robert, a little hesitantly, this was not how he was expecting this meeting to go.
“Average. Humph, well yes, it has been, as you say, average. The problem is, the problem, putting not too fine a point on it, the problem is that it hasn’t fallen in an average way. No not at all. Far too much in March, nothing in April and May, absolutely nothing, and then a big dump in June. Terrible, simply terrible for the farmers.”
“Oh, I see sir,” said Robert, who didn’t.
“Did you know, did you know… um, let me see here, yes, nearly five thousand farming companies have been wound up this year?”
“Yes, you’d think so wouldn’t you, but actually it’s excellent news. Seems that many of them took advantage of the governments re-establishment funds, you know to get the old farmers to retire, and allow farming companies to merge. Much more efficient, they can use bigger machines and whatnot.”
“But hard on the farmers sir, having to give up their livelihoods?”
Humphries stared at him and then asked pointedly, “Have you ever worked on a farm, Jenkins?”
“Uh no, sir.”
“Humph, city boy. Well I can tell you, it’s damned hard work. Damned hard. I did a few summers working on the farm. Good times.”
A wistful look came over Humphries face as he had another of his unexpected pauses, and then he continued.
“I reckon that once they did the numbers and realised they’d have as much money from the government as they were getting from farming, most of those farmers jumped at it. Much less stressful than worrying about the weather. Interesting though, need some data, right Jenkins can you add to your list to get some opinion data from the farmers? Happiness, plans for the future, optimism, you know the sort. For the ones who’ve quit obviously, but the others too. Might have a bearing on… hmm, yes. Where was I?”
Robert gulped. He’d started to lose track.
“Um, farms getting bigger?”
“Well yes, they will, but that’s not the point. What’s the point, oh yes, it’s the other farming companies, yes, some have disappeared, and the others, yes as you say getting bigger.”
“More efficient…” tried Robert.
“True, but they need fewer people. Farmhands and the like, looks like some seven thousand of them are going to lose their roles. Generally youngsters of course.”
“That’s going to be very hard on them I’m sure.”
“Sure are you? Well you’re wrong, it turns out they’re all being pushed onto these training courses, money to learn and that sort of thing. All part of the deal for the farmers, so there’s been quite a take-up so I’ve been informed. Might get a whole new crop of nurses, accountants and managers out of them so I’m told. Moving them from primary to tertiary roles is the plan. Good for the economy, the way it should be going. Up not down!”
“Knowledge economy,” chipped in Robert.
“Yes, knowledge. Of course the down side is that there’s now a lot less casual labour, well cheap casual labour.”
“Oh, well that should help the long term unemployed?” said Robert who recalled a memo which had said something on this topic a week or two ago.
Humphries gave him a penetrating look and then said, “That’s the thing I like about you Jenkins. Seems like you know nothing, completely at sea and then you put your finger on it, bang.”
Robert jumped a little as Humphries banged the table for emphasis.
“Thing is, we didn’t predict this sadly, the thing is these long term unemployed johnnies, well they’re more expensive for casual labour. They expect to earn more, older, more responsibilities at home, qualifications and whatnot, and the thing is, well the companies have no choice, because all the other casual workers have gone off to work knowledgeably. So that’s that, costs have gone up.”
“But in the longer term, the taxes should even out and overall benefit the economy,” said Robert with a flash of memory.
“Yes, yes, long term, all very well, but that’s not what we’re talking about. So yes, what was I saying? Oh yes, costs up, profits down, and the problem is, well, profits down. So they’re cutting. And one of the things they’re cutting is us. Taking a lot less advice from the likes of us, apparently they think they can do it on their own.”
“Not good sir.”
“You think? I don’t know, I think they’ll make some mistakes, and they’ll be back, and when they do, well they’ll be willing to pay a bit more. You mark my words, but I think the roundabouts will give back more than we lost on those swings. Opportunities in the future for a bright young man like you.”
Humphries paused as if expecting a comment, but Robert didn’t really know what to say, other than, “Thank you sir.”
“Well, yes, perhaps, so there’s been a call to identify excess roles. Which brings us to you,” Humphries said a bit gruffly.
Robert felt a sudden lurch in his stomach. He needed this job. How was he going to afford his flat? What would he say to his mother?
“The bad news is…”
Humphries had yet another one of his pauses. Robert felt like his head was going to explode.
“The bad news, yes, well it is that we’re going to have to let your boss, what is his name, um, yes, Philips? Yes, he’s being allowed to find other opportunities in an alternate organisation.”
Robert sighed in relief, and then seeing Humphries glare, straightened up and showed a concerned face.
Humphries coughed and then pointed at Robert and said, “The good news, someone has to do his job, and it’s you. Good luck!”
Humphries stood up and offered Robert his hand. Robert shook it, and then Humphries waved him to the door.
As he was about to step through, Humphries said, “Talking about the weather, interesting stuff isn’t it Jenkins.”
“Yes, sir, it is.”