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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
I know it wasn’t this way for my parents.
When Dad came home at the end of the day, it was the end of the day.
He put his briefcase down, hung up his coat, made a cocktail for himself and one for my mother. Mom slipped out of her office like a toddler doffing their shirt beside a backyard pool: it fell to the ground and lay there wrinkled on the grass, completely forgotten while she swam in life.
They’d talk about their day while dinner cooked, and Dad might do some work, collating computer index cards for research he was working on or reading scientific papers.
But there were no cellphones, the hall telephone rang rarely and it was never work calling. They had time to read books. To walk the dog. To relax. To sit in the same room and talk.
Email didn’t exist yet, and your boss owned exactly the amount of time that they paid for. You weren’t balancing work and life, because they were two different, distinct things. You didn’t spend the weekend thinking about Monday’s column, answering emails and maintaining that work-necessary social media presence.
My parents didn’t take on sideline evening or weekend work to pay the bills; they didn’t juggle work for their employer and other work commitments.
It’s amazing to think that, in some ways, the ’70s offered a better life than the ones most of us have now.
And it’s only going to get worse. Plenty of people work on short-notice gig economy type jobs. Wait until Sunday night to find out what your shifts are for the week. Wait until Sunday night to find out if you’re working at all. Wait for the next call to see if you’re delivering that food or that passenger or if you’re just watching the clock tick by.
This can’t go on. Business owners know the value of the concept of goodwill as a business asset. It’s essentially their reputation with clients and customers. They should realize that there’s goodwill with employees, too. More work can’t be done with fewer people, unless there’s more time taken to meet the demand — and if there’s more time being taken, more money should be paid out.
There have to be new rules around what’s allowable with work and workers, because employers have shown themselves to be incapable of self-regulation.
Employers have gotten a lot out of technological advances: less travel time for employees on things as simple as documentary research, the ability — through company or government cellphones — to essentially keep employees on call 24 hours a day, while only having to pay for seven and a half. The constant corporate leash of email and text messaging — how many of you got a text from work this past holiday weekend?
How many of you worked during the last three days? It’s not even healthy.
Governments have let companies run away from pension plans in favour of profits, and companies have allowed other benefits to atrophy as well, while the financial spread between the very rich and the everyday worker has continued to grow.
How many of us can say we’ve managed a full summer vacation without an apologetic workplace email, phone call, or a dozen of them in combination?
Work can’t stay like this.
Eventually, there’s going to have to be something like a charter of workers’ rights, and not just the anemic labour standards of individual provinces, either. There have to be new rules around what’s allowable with work and workers, because employers have shown themselves to be incapable of self-regulation.
There’s a serious workplace reckoning coming, and I’m surprised that a smart political party wouldn’t see that coming and find a way to hitch their wagon to it.
Because a hell of a lot more employees vote than corporations.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.
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