This post is somewhat out of left field for this blog and it came about because of a couple of videos that I recently viewed, which really resonated with me, considering many of the things that that I’ve experienced and what’s going on in today’s world, including Australia. Though not directly related to this story, but as a bit of an aside, from time to time a question is asked as to who you would like to meet, have lunch with or invite to a BBQ and, invariably, the responses or suggestions involve some lame celebrity, pop star, over-rated actor or the latest sports ‘personality’. Well if I had my druthers, I’d choose Mike Rowe. Some of you may have heard the name and can identify him immediately, others can’t quite pin it, while many others will likely give you a baffled look.
However, if I mention ‘Dirty Jobs‘, it’s likely that far more people know what I’m talking about, if not the person involved. Dirty Jobs was an interesting TV series to say the least and I got hooked on it the first time it was televised in Australia. What Mike was doing on that show resonated with me to quite a degree, as it reflected some of the dirty jobs that I’ve had to do in my time. But, more importantly, Mike highlighted to the world that there are people everywhere doing jobs that few care about, or even know about, but which allow them to live the comfortable lives to which they have become accustomed to living. The other aspect, I think, that was pivotal to the series was the depiction of a genuine work ethic; the point that hard and often dirty work, isn’t something to be reviled or dismissed, as is often the case with the western world today and the ever increasing number of snowflakes that view the deteriorating version of the world as their comforting home.
Don’t Follow Your Passion – (source: PragerU.com)
You might ask why I’m writing about an American TV presenter, and that’s a fair question. Well, Mike Rowe is, I believe, far more than a TV presenter; he lives and represents an idea and an ideal that’s fast disappearing from our lives, and tells it like it is. I’m reminded of this every week in my home town when interacting with people in the community; people lamenting the decline of many aspects of our society. Some may say that we’re living in the 1950s in Mirboo North, but that’s a pretty good place to be, as it still maintains an attitude that enabled society to grow to what it is today, even though far too many now take those past efforts for granted. The Mirboo North community still retains an attitude and work ethic that is far removed from the increasingly welfare dependent culture that’s pervading today’s society, or the disinterest in work that involves manual labour. And I’m not talking about welfare that relates to the genuinely poor, but the middle income groups that are growing up with an ‘entitlement’ mentality (amongst other things).
Mike Rowe hits the nail on the head by identifying the many issues that afflict America today, and much of that is no different to Australia. For example, there has been a push to have more and more students enter university, rather than the traditional paths of trades and the like, even if it benefits no one. It started several governments ago (perhaps even longer) where this attitude developed that for Australia to be ‘The Clever Country’, just about everyone needed to have a degree, with no guarantee of graduates getting work in their chosen field, or there even being a requirement for such graduates. Yet at the same time, Australia has a chronic shortage of trades qualified people, amongst others. This isn’t good for anyone, or the country. Mike Rowe puts the disconnect far more eloquently and actually decided to do something about this.
Learning from dirty jobs – (source: TED)
I still remember one of the first ‘dirty’ jobs that I had, which was at the James Hardie asbestos pipe manufacturing plant in Footscray, Victoria. My job was to ensure that the pipes coming out of the rolling machine kept rolling along and weren’t damaged, an absolutely mind numbing job. On my second day, the asbestos vat (about 4m in diameter and 3m deep), from which the raw material for the pipes was sourced, had to be hand-scraped clean. This was always the ‘new boy’s’ job and the only protective gear you had were the overalls that you were wearing. Watched by laughing and smirking ‘senior workers’, I carried out this very unpleasant job and, thankfully, the asbestos in the vat was wet or I shudder to think what would have been in my lungs today. Anyway, at the end of day two, I got a call from another employer with a job offer and, the next day, I put in my notice and left that place, with ‘me’ quietly laughing and smirking while the ‘senior workers’ looked on in bafflement as I waved them goodbye.
The new job that I went to was worlds apart from James Hardie and was at an engineering firm that supported the local manufacturing plants that produced plastics, carbon black, glass, fuel etc. It was a fantastic job where I worked for many years, both before and while attending university (working during breaks). I learned a lot of very useful skills in those years that have served me well to this day and there were many moments where dirty jobs came about, but this time the safety provisions etc were also worlds apart from what James Hardie provided. I also got to see dirty jobs that other people did, such as replacing refractory bricks on a working glass furnace at the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company (now Pilkington ACI) in Spotswood, Victoria. The workers were suited up like the Michelin Man, with 100mm thick wooden plates on their work boots (to keep their feet coolish), and they could only work around 10 minutes at a time due to the incredible heat and its effect on one’s stamina.
Now I could relate many personal tales of numerous dirty, uncomfortable, incredibly hot/cold or tiring jobs jobs that I’ve done to earn a crust, but that’s not really the thrust of this story. What I’ve done is nothing unusual; however, as I mentioned earlier, these are jobs that few people are aware that exist or certainly don’t know what they involve. Those sipping boutique beers in their inner Melbourne haunts will likely have no idea of how the glass that the beer is served from was manufactured, how the raw produce that they are eating was produced, the cutlery they are eating with was made or how the equipment to cook their meals comes about; most wouldn’t care if you asked. And, as manufacturing moves ever increasingly off-shore, these jobs become even more remote from anyone’s experiences. Not only that, enormous levels of basic manufacturing skills and the associated support industry keeps disappearing from Australia.
And manufacturing isn’t the only issue, Australia’s agriculture and food manufacturing is similarly being hit from all directions, both local and international. Free trade agreements are always double edged swards and it’s never a given that there’ll be a balance between imports and exports to benefit all in an equitable manner. People complain about the high cost or poor quality of food, but never think about why that might be; they don’t realise that it’s just another example of dirty jobs being transferred elsewhere (ie overseas). Farmers often can’t find Australian workers to do basic work; take fruit picking for example, so when back packers are willing to do these dirty jobs, our government introduces taxes removing any incentive to do the work. If there are people willing to do work that no one else is prepared to do, why penalise the employer and employee?
Australia’s mining industry is also under significant threat, where many well-meaning individuals and groups simply don’t understand the real situation and call for its demise, suggesting that other industries will easily fill the vacuum. And it’s not just the big mining companies that are under threat, but small operators willing to take on risks are also being ‘undermined’ by thoughtless and unproductive regulations. For many it’s just a case of out of sight, out of mind, without any idea of the detrimental impacts such losses may entail. The following photograph, I suspect, shows more productive workers than you’ll find in any Australia Council list of taxpayer-funded arts-grant recipients from the last ten years.
I’ve only given a brief insight on how I feel things are travelling in Australia today and I’m not quite sure that I’ve expressed things altogether clearly, but I hope that you get the idea. So what’s the solution? I’m not really sure. But I do believe that making people aware of what’s happening is an important step. Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone like Mike Rowe in Australia promoting and running campaigns such as he does in America. So maybe this story is a small attempt to advertise that we need to start promoting work ethics, trade training, local industry and have similar campaigns, in order to bring back those skills and the jobs that are fast disappearing from our shores. That is, let’s ensure that ‘dirty jobs’ isn’t a dirty word. But I won’t hold my breath.
And I think this is apropos when talking about today’s work ethic.
Update 1: At least some sanity has prevailed and the backpacker tax has been dropped:
The Federal Government has responded to pressure and dropped its plan to introduce a 32.5 per cent tax on backpacker workers.
Instead, working holidaymakers will be taxed at 19 per cent from their first dollar earned.
Increasingly dismayed farmers, tourism operators and regional communities said a 32.5 per cent tax on backpacker labour would be a “disaster” at harvest time.
Backpackers make up 25 per cent of the farm workforce each year.
In the Northern Territory, they represent 85 per cent of farm labourers.
Update 2: Perhaps I spoke too soon:
It’s widely known that the backpacker tax bill removes the tax free threshold for backpackers and increases the tax on their superannuation to a whopping 95 per cent, and that a linked bill increases the passenger movement charge, giving us one of the highest, most anti-tourist departure taxes in the world.
But not many know about the bill’s hidden pro-union provisions.
Update 3: And if you think government is here to help business, think again:
SELF-STORAGE mogul Sam Kennard has lashed out at the government’s gender equality watchdog after his business was “named and shamed” for not filling a complicated annual questionnaire.
“While politicians and economists lament the declining productivity in our economy, it is exactly this red-tape and the imposts of these bureaucracies that tax the efforts of enterprise. If the government was serious about tackling productivity it would get out of our way — it would abolish the WGEA and the abundance of other regulations they lay on.”
Update 5: This, beggars belief: