One of the operators is retiring, and we gather in the control room for presents, leaving speeches, a raffle and a free lunch. The man retiring is T, “the Scotsman”, with the driest sense of humour on the plant. The Ops team gift him a fishing rod and a bottle of famous grouse, and G makes a speech about how “we’ll all miss T’s constant stream of abuse.” When T speaks, he’s very serious:
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with you these past 35 years. I’ve made some great friends here — unfortunately they’ve all started leaving, so it’s time I went too.
“Covid has made me think about my priorities, what’s actually important to me at this point in my life. I also think higher management (no-one in this room), higher management, have treated us appallingly during the pandemic. That’s another reason I’ve decided to go.
“Thanks everyone — please eat!”
A, one of the managers and raffle-organiser, looks unhappy at the speech. But she’s also had a hard time with Covid, nearly loosing her Dad and shielding for a year so she could care for him. A has also announced her retirement.
L, the young electrician whom I was on shift with during lockdown, is leaving too. He took a leave of absence last month to deal with a family crisis and take care of his kids. Now he’s leaving to move back to Scunthorpe so he can be closer to them.
Me: “You’re off then?”
L: “Yeah, unfortunately. Gonna be a supervisor.” He catches P’s eye, another electrician, “No more quizzes on Fridays.”
With L leaving it makes sense for an apprentice electrician to apply for his job, and the obvious candidate is LW. The fitters discuss this over tea with the other apprentices:
D: “LW is the clear choice.”
Me: “He’d be really good, perfect for him.”
D: “Thing is I don’t think they’re going to let him. Say he’s not ready yet.”
Lu: “How’s he not ready? He’s finished his apprenticeship, practically.”
D: “It’s whether he can be left on his own though — can he do weekends? Is he safe without supervision? I mean I think he deserves a job definitely, but you need to be able to do it, safely. I don’t think they’ll give it to him ‘cause it would mean paying someone overtime to supervise.”
Lu, whose apprenticeship contract is nearly finished, tries to hide his anxiety. Whenever anyone asks he shrugs and says “Worst case I’ll fix cars and sell drugs, I’m not that bothered.” Later in the week the Veolia Apprenticeship mentor visits me and LW to chat about jobs. When it comes up in the fitters’ shop Lu is furious.
Me: “They’re pushing us through the last bit of our training so we can apply for these positions.”
Lu: “I thought we weren’t allowed to apply for jobs until our contract had finished?! That’s why I couldn’t go for P’s job when he left!”
J: “That’s what it’s like around here though — say one thing one day and change it the next day. You never really know something’s going to happen until it’s happening — and then it’s too late.”
Me: “That is bullshit. Look, Lu, you should speak to N — speak to the mentor, she’s here all afternoon. Just go up and talk to her.”
Lu: “I’ll email her — I’ll message her now.”
While the mentor and our line manager are on site talking, Lu tries to ring HR services and gives up when he’s put on hold for fifteen minutes. After he leaves, I ask one of the fitters about him.
Me: “He rang HR instead of knocking on N’s door — I didn’t want to patronise him, but he’s not ok, is he?”
J: “He really doesn’t like talking to management. I think he also didn’t want to go in there ‘cause he’s afraid of what they might say.”
• Emma Rickman is an apprentice engineer at a Combined Heat and Power Plant