I am not sure what I felt when I heard my son was being paid just over four pounds an hour.
It came as a surprise.
Equally, I’m not sure what I expected.
Back in the day, when I was his age, I remember working as a summer postman.
Traipsing around shaded Pollokshields streets, delivering mail to outsized sandstone mansions one day, 25 floor high-rises in the Gorbals the next. Me, an always early bird, loved the sorting, then the free trips on Corporation Buses and the dreaming that went with my imagining as to the contents of the letters, the occasional BMJ, Time or Newsweek magazine.
I didn’t have a Walkman. I was left to my own thoughts.
My son, zero-hours, works four hours, sometimes five. ‘No, we don’t need you today,’ is the essence of being young in 21st Century England.
Yes, we will treat you as a part of the commodity chain.
He doesn’t need to work. I am happy to provide. It is however a good experience for him and he is learning, at least that is what I tell him.
‘Think of it as an internship.’
‘I don’t want to be a waiter,’ he says.
‘I know, you are gaining life-skills and, well… Experience.’
He doesn’t answer.
In his heart I am sure he knows it is a con. A swindle.
There are no tips. Or, whatever gratuities exist, go somewhere else.
I don’t necessarily blame the restaurant owners. They have somehow managed to survive 18 months of pandemic trauma.
Yet, four pounds, or a little over, doesn’t seem very much.
I think of the very rich.
They seem easy to identify.
They appear in cars with V8 engines and convertible roofs.
They are the 1 per cent we hear about; those who have more than everyone else put together.
We don’t actually get to see the very rich. They live in hidden-away places, ferried from VIP lounge to business class. The tax-dodgers don’t need to hide their shame as they are hidden in their entirety.
I imagine an average mid-class restaurant meal.
Maybe 80 pounds a head. If people are living it up, that might go to £120.
Two hours, £120.
My son gets £8 for that time.
That leaves £112 for everything else. Or, if it is a table of four, he gets £8, the restaurant £472.
The kitchen staff, other overheads, the cost of the food and so on.
Would I be happy to know that the young man or woman running around, smiling, tending to my every need gets paid 7% the price of my meal and, none of the tip. (2% of the table).
It’s a bonkers calculus.
I think what troubles me more is that fact that he seems to be content with the work and the pay.
For the first three shifts, that was 12 hours, he was told they wouldn’t pay him if they didn’t want to take him on.
He doesn’t eat meat.
The payment was rice and mushrooms.
A ‘good gesheft’ as my dad would say.
Again, I told him he is lucky. I am here to provide. It is not as if he has a family of his own to support. My dad, at his age already was working full-time and had a family on the way.
The economics of today.
A strange mixture of happenstance and powerlessness.
If he had been born in a developing country, £4 an hour in 2021 might appear reasonable.
I won’t tell you what I think. You probably already know.
We should be raising taxes and so on.
I hear the New Zealand Government is setting a minimum wage at $20 NZ an hour. That, according to today’s exchange-rate is just over 10 pounds an hour.
The point of this blog? Its purpose?
Like many I have written, I don’t know.
It is an appreciation of inequality.
It is a paean to inequity.
Nothing in life is fair, nothing is equal, everything an imbalance, a turmoil of what is and what should or could be.
My son, he’s ready to head out tonight.
Saturday night, rushing from table to table.
Waiters pad in hand.
Trying not to spill drinks or smash any plates.
Smiling, doing his best to please and support.
And me, what I am?