Mon | May 21, 2018

In the office but not on the job

Published:Wednesday | January 9, 2013 | 12:00 AM
George Davis

By George Davis

The woman gets to work at her government job by 6:30 a.m. on Monday. She's in two hours early because she has to print 160 coloured programmes for her church's upcoming games night.

She intends to print them all in office before any of her informer colleagues arrive. She sees Andrea at her cubicle, but fears nothing. Andrea is the Queen when it comes to using government stationery and materials for the benefit of her children, their friends, and neighbours. Andrea was once found to have used three reams of paper to print flyers for a dance her big son was having, but escaped sanction after her union stepped in.

The woman suddenly remembers she had promised her niece that she would print and bind four SBAs for her by Wednesday. That's another 200 pages, with several coloured diagrams. The woman looks at her watch. It's 6:40 a.m., and she realises she has enough time to print the SBA and the church programmes before the office starts getting busy at 8:15 and work begins at 8:30.

The woman starts printing the SBAs, but after 86 pages, she realises that the spacing isn't right and that the diagrams are spilling over from the pages. She hisses her teeth before going into the cabinet to pull out a fresh ream of paper to start the process again. She stashes away the spoilt 86 pages and makes a mental note to run them through the shredder before she leaves for the day.

At 8:15, the office is almost full. The woman scowls after remembering she didn't get to listen to those ladies this morning as usual. She also didn't get to access Facebook and see what others, the majority of whom she would never know personally, had been up to on the weekend.

It's now 8:30, and the woman must get down to regular business. She goes to the kitchenette and makes herself coffee. After catching up with the two office attendants, the woman emerges 15 minutes later with a steaming cup of Mountain Peak, the kind she no longer buys for her home, given that so much of it is at the office.

Office gossip

She returns to her office by 8:50, having taken five minutes to find The Gleaner. She then settles at her desk to enjoy the brew while leafing through the publication. By 9:30, she's done with The Gleaner and sets off to find the Observer. She locates the paper at her friend's cubicle, where she sits to read and catch up on office gossip.

By 10:15, the woman powers her computer back on. She reads intra-office email and takes time to forward fresh jokes from her inbox to her friends. She then comments on a scripture sent by a Christian staff member and goes to her favourite Bible-based website to find something with which she, too, can bless the inbox of general staff.

By the time all this is done, it's about 11 a.m. The woman spends the next half-hour reading 'stuff' from the MSN splash page, listening to her mid-morning talk show and contemplating seriously what she'll eat for lunch at midday. By 11:30, company starts to gather in the woman's office, as those in the cubicles and other surrounding areas congregate to kill time and prepare for lunch at midday.

This woman and her crew are not fictitious. They work throughout government ministries, agencies and departments. Theirs is a job for life. They aren't obliged to produce anything. They turn up early, drink troughs of tea, coffee or Milo, and put in a daily shift worth less than the value of a teabag. Their managers and supervisors are powerless to make them produce and deathly afraid of their powerful unions.

These are not people without ability. These are people who've been allowed by the system to be complacent and whose DNA code has four additional letters: L.A.Z.Y.

Having seen this kind of conduct first-hand, it should be clear why I'll shed not a tear if the Government were forced by the International Monetary Fund to cut the likes of these from the public sector. In next week's amazing sequel (a must-read), you'll learn what happens after lunch.


George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to and