Thursday, July 28, 2016

Want Pay, Won't Work

As a collective, seasonal workers don't always enjoy the greatest of reputations. But the seasonal worker comes in different guises. Some are business owners - bars, attractions, excursions, hotels, yacht charters and so on. The owner is every bit as seasonal as the personnel he or she employs, a fact determined by the inherent seasonality of Mallorca's tourism. If there weren't seasonality, there wouldn't be seasonal workers.

Such seasonal employment has always existed. Or at least since the tourism boom of the early 1960s. This said, seasonality was a factor before the industrial revolution of Mallorca's tourism. Agriculture abides by the seasons. Always has done, always will do. For tourism there is the same perpetuation. There always will be seasonality, regardless of the desires and efforts of government and others. Seasonality, as with seasonal workers, shouldn't be decried. There is very little that can truthfully be done to alter the determining factors of weather and daylight hours: climate change and dabbling with the clocks may have an impact but the Earth's voyage around the Sun is likely to remain stubbornly as it is.

The tourism seasonal worker was originally home-bred or from the Spanish mainland: Andalusia especially. The farms saw their workers relocate to the coasts for a new type of seasonal employment. Some would return in winter. Others headed for the building sites. Ultimately there was to be the hurry for the dole queues, with contracts confirming qualification for the "paro".

As Mallorca became cosmopolitan because of its tourism, so it attracted its foreign seasonal workers and seasonal business owners. For some of these workers, principally reps, this was to provide different stepping-stones. Marriage was one. Another was business ownership; a further one was management with hotel chains and various businesses. The reps of yesterday reside in current-day Mallorca. Those still in the tourism industry have amassed enormous experience and knowledge of the industry. Having come from the coal face and often still being at it, there is little or nothing they don't know about tourism and tourists.

These would have been seasonal workers who, yes, had come to enjoy themselves but had sufficient nous and ambition to work with seriousness, to gain excellent references with CVs that were to lead them in directions they probably hadn't planned. But because they were good, they succeeded. Look at them now: you'll know ones as well as I do.

These were the lucky ones. They rose above the less serious, the frivolous and not terribly good workers. But the unevenness of employee attribute fostered the less than good reputation of seasonal workers. Then, and because of cost-cutting and the introduction of technology (often misplaced), came the shedding of workers. Perversely, this led to the more mature worker being sidelined. It was all a question of cost. This cycle is being put into reverse. Tour operators understand the value of knowledge and a cool, experienced head.

There is a vast army of seasonal workers: highly competent and responsible or highly incompetent and irresponsible. Think for a moment of the Spanish waiter or waitress who takes pride in the professionalism of the job. But not all. I recall once having been in the Pollensa office of the owner of a chain of establishments, his desk a mass of CVs and of dismissal documentation. He typically only employed Spaniards. "Want pay, won't work."

Part of this army pulls the rest back, undermining its reputation. Here we find different characters. There is the peripatetic drifter, occupying a rootless existence at the margins of society. He or she may be adept, until the manifestations of the rootlessness appear - drink and/or drugs. Or of delusions, the products of their own make-believe. There is the younger worker for whom work is an inconvenience in the pursuit of pleasure and hedonism, however it may be achieved. 

Want pay, won't work is a mantra, it has been put to me, which is ever more evident this season. Bar owners laying off workers (British most often) almost as soon as they have been taken on: want pay, won't work. There again, this is a reverse variation on the exploitation of seasonal workers: those taken on with dubious or non-existent contractual agreements and suddenly let go, only to be replaced by others who are similarly dismissed.

Now, for one category of seasonal worker - the British - come the uncertainties of Brexit. One bar owner tells me that his gestor (who is advising various other owners) has told him not to take on any British employees next season: not the seasonal arrivals at any rate. This seems unnecessarily pre-emptive. But if so, it'll be a case of want pay, can't work.

Strip away the idle and the useless and you are left with the majority: the hardworking and the committed. Mallorca wouldn't work without seasonal employees. They deserve their pay. And more often than not, more than they get.

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