Pick For Britain, son!

by | May 6, 2020 | News

It all started with a phone call at Silly O’Clock in the morning from my son Cameron in Australia on the same fateful day as Boris announced lock-down here.

I groped around in the dark for my phone, clicked the green button and heard Cam say, in a slightly panicked voice, “Dad, it’s going into full lock-down here, I need to get home!”. After he finished his degree in Sports Coaching, he landed a job as a Rowing Coach at a secondary school in Melbourne. He loves all sports but the one he excels in and loves the most is rowing. He was lucky to get on literally one of the very last fights out of Melbourne.

A few weeks later he’s kicking his heels around the house saying he’s bored and wants to earn some money to go travelling once lock-down is lifted. My kids have always been able to take their pick of jobs as we live in the middle of Cambridge. Cam’s favourite summer job has been as a chauffeur-punt on the river. But alas, all such jobs in hospitality which we’ve taken for granted for years, are gone. So, I suggested he should “pick for Britain, son!”. Beverley Dixon from G’s had been on TV urging Brits to join them to cut lettuce so I urged Cam to do just that. Now at this point I have to declare an interest as I used to work for G’s back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I owe a lot to G’s for the good friends and business contacts I forged there. It truly is a great British company and one I’m proud to have worked for. So, I was delighted when my son agreed to bite the bullet and apply for a job there. We emailed over his CV and waited to hear from them. The phone call came a few days later – basically a half-hour phone interview with the emphasis on making him aware this is hard work! He’s fit as a butcher’s dog so thanked them for their concern but said he was sure he could cope and they offered him the job. I mentioned it to a few of my mates at G’s but told them I didn’t want any favouritism for him. He started last week and I’m pleased to report that my friends at G’s didn’t let me down – absolutely no favouritism whatsoever! He’s on the front line, in the open air ahead of the rig, bent over double, cutting iceberg, bagging it then turning round to place it on the rotating cups….and repeat….ad infinitum! He came back from his first full shift in his high-vis G’s uniform and said he had aches in muscles he never knew existed!

He’s in a team of all Brits and the plan is to keep it this way – try to keep the same team together to reduce the risk of infection. His team are mainly students and back-packers of a similar age to him but there are also furloughed office workers etc. A good mix – he gets on well with them. He has to wear a face mask which his family enjoy as it’s giving him a “Corona tan”. He pointed out how impossibly quick the Romanian teams are. Once, when they stopped for a break, Cam and a colleague timed how long it took them to cut, bag and place an iceberg – about 4 seconds! It takes the Brits around twice that time but it’s early days for them. That said, even taking their lack of experience into account, he says he can’t see them getting even close to the speed and efficiency of the Romanians. He’s full of admiration for them.

He’s about a week in and he says his aches and pains have settled down and he gets on well with his fellow Brits on the rig and above all, appreciates having a paying job. So far there’s not been too many casualties and most of his team are still turning up for work. I’m on record as saying that Brits simply won’t do this type of work. I stand by that because it’s a whole new ball-game now. We had 3.8% unemployment BC (Before Corona). Any economist will tell you if you have less than 5% unemployment you effectively have zero as there’s always around 5% who can’t or won’t work. Unemployment is forecast to soar into double-digits once the government has weaned us off furlough. Therefore, the willingness and ability of the British worker we’re seeing now, in these extraordinary times, is head and shoulders above what we’ve been used to. Would my son prefer to be gliding down the river, waxing lyrical about the beautiful, mediaeval Cambridge colleges to a punt full of fat Americans who kindly shower him with equally fat tips….or bent over double cutting lettuce on a bleak, flat, wind-swept fen? What do you think? And the same goes for most of his colleagues. The huge difference now is they’re keen, willing, able and grateful to have a paying job. And even though it is heart-warming for most of us in our industry to hear that we’ve finally got Brits taking on these tough jobs and sticking with them – we still shouldn’t take our eye off the ball with regards to the value of EU migrant labour. In the PC (Post Corona) world, most of these Brits will have retreated to their cushier jobs and who can blame them. So, we will absolutely still need highly-productive EU migrants. I’m proud of my lad – of course I am. But I’m also proud of all his colleagues on the rig at G’s and each and every Brit taking on these back-breaking, tough jobs in these difficult times to help feed themselves and feed the nation. If you have any kids, friends or relatives that need a job, please encourage them to Pick For Britain – www.pickforbritain.org.uk – by God we need them!

Stay safe!

Tim O’Malley