Monday, 31 March 2008

this workers life

This (workers) life

It seems beggars can’t be choosy.
Over my working years I have had many and varied jobs. I always kept the wolf from the door by doing what was necessary and sometimes found an ideal job. Good pay good company and something to flex the brain a little.
But as I grow older and with no qualifications except life experience I am no longer in demand. I tried to get qualified in my early twenties, but those life experiences called and I hitchhiked around the world.
In this modern age when everything is instant and accessible my life experiences amount to very little.
So I found myself gaining a CV as long as your arm. Farm work came and went. Archaeological digs sustained me for 5 years. Being a lollypop lady helped out with the kids at school, and night work helping print the newspaper gave me the experience of big bags under my eyes.
Working in a hospital gave me the unforgettable experience of seeing open heart surgery, and more gall stones than a gravel path.
But nothing could prepare me for my latest job at the meatworks
There was a big palaver at the beginning. Q fever injections followed 2 days induction where we learnt about the herding of cattle, and the intricacies of offal.
The grand tour opened our eyes to the wholesale world of killing and cutting up.
Once pleasant animals with doughy eyes chewing their way through grass are miraculously transformed into a plethora of different bits.
Some of those bits end up in Japan, others in Canada, all proudly displaying an Australian sticker.
We were assigned our different areas on completion of induction. Whether Human Resources matched the applicant to the job I couldn’t be sure, but I was in the boning room, others more unfortunate by my estimation went to the killing floor, or the offal room.
The boning room is kept at 8 degrees, so working requires layers of clothes under our whites. All 200 odd employees wear white trousers, overcoats and green aprons. The item of attire that stands out is the white balaclava. All you see are people’s eyes and nose, which is a great leveller.
Human hands can accomplish so much more than a machine. The meatworks have harnessed this thought and use our opposable thumb and our natural dexterity to their absolute advantage.
Packers grab cuts of meat off the belt and bag them in less than a nano second. Box boys make cardboard boxes in the blink of an eye, and put plastic liners in them.
Slicers hook meat off the line and deftly cut it into steaks or trim fat off rump or cube rolls. But it is the boners that are at the top of the pecking order. They stand above the rest cutting though the hanging carcass, their movement orchestrated to the particular task. Shins and knuckles, intercostals, silversides and rumps. They work at a furious pace the knife turning and twisting to niggle out a cut of meat.
I pack. My hands swell from the constant repetition and the cold. The girl’s says it’s usual.
My back aches from hauling 9kg rumps and bagging them. My feet are numb from wearing rubber boots, and yet I like it. It is good hard honest labour. We earn every cent, and although we are only a number on our balaclava there is a comraderie that can’t be found in an office, or in a call centre. We are one big machine working together to a common end. Just don’t send me to the offal room.

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