It is Thursday, once more. Thursday synonymous, now, with clapping for the NHS; the heroic, the selfless, the noble. The legend that is Captain Tom will still be walking, secure in the hearts of millions, as he leads the crusade highlighting the good borne of bad. The media abounds with those doing their bit and their best to alleviate the crisis and raise spirits but as, with black, comes white; with white comes black.
The devastating fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has all but crippled the world. Shallow words were it not for the reality closer to home: those who have lost their incomes and their livelihoods; those whose futures have been cruelly felled. The sinking of Titanic comes to mind and the ensuing panic which met the knowledge of the shortage of lifeboats. Heroes and villains. The fight for survival, inevitably, sets them apart. True colours …
The word ‘furlough’ is everywhere denoting the Government’s bid to protect the individual and the economy. Businesses can furlough their employees at no cost to themselves; rather, Government-funded, those furloughed are guaranteed 80% of their salary and, hopefully, future employment. Now, one could understand some discrepancy were it the case that employers were liable for the repayment of said monies but there is no such valid excuse. This is not a loan.
Black and white. Good and bad. What of the news of Richard Branson’s plea for Government aid to save his business empire after admitting that he has ‘no cash in the bank’? Virgin Atlantic has been badly hit by the Coronavirus pandemic and Sir Richard, he of an estimated worth of £3.5bn, is understood to be requesting around £500m from British taxpayers. What’s that? Why does he live in the British Virgin Islands? Well, for the climate, of course!
Anyway, I recently received notification of a new petition on Change.org calling for signatures to ensure Sir Richard sells his private assets before any bailing out by the Government. Fair enough, particularly if, as also reported, he has sent staff home for eight weeks without pay!
In times of crisis, the need for ethics could not be more vital. ‘No man is an island.’ John Donne, you were so right! It is not a case of every man for himself. It is a case of pulling together in the spirit of two world wars and Sir Tom Moore! The white as opposed to the black. Sadly, the black is manifested in those who pay no heed to the plight of others, selfishly recognising an opportunity for gain.
So it is that someone I know was treated very badly as it became clear to employers that the onset of this pandemic was unavoidable. Working, since November, for a prestigious estate agency in Edinburgh, he is a natural with people – and dogs – which was an asset in this job. His six-month probation, however, was ongoing until the end of April and the asset was disposable. No warning, no empathy; no contract forthcoming. He was let go just as his fellow-employees began to work from home. Forget ongoing rent and bills, in that instant, he lost his future – or the one he had planned.
As the Government position on furloughing became clearer, he was offered some hope but the furloughing of employees is at the discretion of the employer. Though he qualified in terms of dates, he was flatly and coldly refused without justification. ‘Safe’ themselves – for now – his former bosses joined ranks. Faced with a crisis, if there was a shortage of lifeboats, they were determined to ensure their places no matter whom they trampled in their wake. Women and children first? Doubt it. Be grateful we weren’t reliant on men such as those in WWI or II; wars won courtesy of selfless bravery borne of unbreakable team spirit and camaraderie; the belief in ‘All for one and one for all’ requiring of heart as opposed to ego.
It takes strength of character to realise that some people are just not worthy. The ruthless boss who had the opportunity to do the decent but chose not to? I have long believed that only those who are unhappy themselves are capable of, or have the wish to treat others badly. They deserve only pity. Moreover, one can put no price on a clear conscience.
To add insult to injury, this person – who has lost his income – was due a considerable sum in backdated commission for work both acknowledged and attributed to him. Said monies would have provided a much-needed lifeline in these unprecedented times but his personal quest for remuneration was ostensibly ignored before being passed on to the impersonal HR and duly denied. He was referred to his contract and the small print! Of course. Any commission earned by employees no longer employed … well, it’s ours. Tough! Now, where are the ethics in that?
Walk away. As one of his friends suggested, regard the lost commission as payment for valuable lessons learned. Life deals some cruel hands but times of crisis are nothing if not revealing in terms of character and morals. Everything one does has an impact on somebody else and, of that, one should always be conscious. With age, though, comes wisdom (I sound like Sitting Bull!) and the confidence to surround oneself, only, with those of shared values. Learning that one is worth so much more is liberating! So, my subject should be grateful of his lucky escape from the Edinburgh office of an estate agency, renowned throughout the world, which proved anything but worthy of its prestigious name. Real success, at the end of the day – business or boss – is not merely reflected in the figures but in employees who feel valued and respected. That requires a degree of humanity; an empathy, clearly lacking here. In its place, those in positions of authority demonstrated a ruthlessness borne of guilt. Back to the clear conscience … Loyalty is integral to a clear conscience and, too, requiring of a selflessness. Former colleagues, who became friends, must reconcile theirs. Does one risk one’s job in defending one’s friend or stay silent? I, for one, was brought up to believe that one should treat others as one would wish to be treated oneself. I taught my children the same.
The moral of the tale? Life is full of good and bad; black and white. As when crossing a river, one must look for the stepping stones and always put one’s hand out to help those following behind. Free of guilt, one can survive almost anything.
‘We used to shoot a man who acted like a dog, but honour was real there, you were protecting something. But here? This is the land of the great big dogs, you don’t love a man here, you eat him! That’s the principle; the only one we live by – it just happened to kill a few people this time, that’s all.’
All My Sons, Arthur Miller.
This is Trish, signing off.