Work is never play

Work is never play

THE gusts of August shall soon be here starting this week, and the dross from the last seasons shall be swept in the winds that clean the landscape for the new sprouts of Spring to shoot forth the earth.

The last season is gone and in the Basotho calendar, August is the first month of the year: a time when resolutions should be made and new decisions taken.
The retrospective outlooks on past failures in one’s endeavours over the past year take the fore in my book; for they do not need to be repeated in the same form and pattern that they occurred or were done.

If the same errors reoccur in a certain aspect of one’s life, then it simply means that one is not doing things right or that there is some peculiar quality to the error which the individual is not addressing or confronting in frank terms.  As a handyman, I have had to deal with one aspect that under normal circumstances would have had me give up on my tough profession and down my tools: there is a rampant disregard for the services certain skilled and semi-skilled professionals render to the masses of citizens that need them.

This aspect is expressed in the form of non-payment, where the recipient of the services does not pay for the service/s rendered or as is often the case, does not pay for the services on time.
This means that the service provider faces a dilemma which sometimes ends up in the total collapse of the business of providing services in repairs or maintenance.
Business cannot be run on a robbing Peter to pay Paul basis, there is a salient need for floating cash which buoys the business when the seasons are dry and the clients are few and far in between.
This constant flow of cash does not affect only the individual but the whole economy for the small man buys differing commodities and services with the earnings from the service provision activities.

The problem of the lack of acknowledgement of the services handymen and their ilk does not stem from the masses, but it actually has its roots in government policies that do not seem to consider the contribution of small to medium entrepreneurs as significant in the advancement of the economy.
What one hears is lobbying speeches that praise the input of small to medium enterprises in the maintenance of the economy; however, this turns out to be a totally different story when it comes to the implementation phase of such policies that are from the onset geared towards poverty and unemployment eradication.

The recipient of the services does not pay the service provider, and the service provider ends up getting into debt to cover some of the basic needs that sustain him or her as the individual.
This means that by dealing with certain (unscrupulous) recipients, one as a service provider ends up in more debt than they can get out of despite working at a rate that could maintain them well above the debt line if the clients paid on time.

In short, if the rate of payment is not equal to the effort, then this means that there is something wrong in terms of the rightful flow of cash, that there is one side that is living life at a comfortable level at the expense of another living in utter squalor.
Most of the clients that do not pay or seem unwilling to pay for the services rendered are in my books simply uncouth characters who value only themselves and their needs.
A trip to the mall actually counts far more than the poor handyman in overalls who has just fixed a leaking pipe or roof.

How this comes about has its source in how government education policy works, for if some jobs are rated of far more importance than others, then it means that there will be a kink in the line of cash-flow.

Those seemingly insignificant jobs actually do carry a certain level of worth, because if they are not performed then it means the comfort and the well-being of a certain sector of society is adversely affected.

One’s pipe leaking means a larger water bill at the end of the month, but to the individual that holds the false notion that the plumber’s work is of little importance, the job’s true worth in terms of physical and financial comfort is disregarded.

This intentional ignorance often stems from the smart aleck notion that one knows but does not actually have the time to do it themselves.
If you do not have the time or the expertise to deal with the maintenance and there is someone available to do the job, then it is only fair that you pay for the service/s such an individual is willing to perform for a gain.

Engaging in bargaining with the service provider actually insults the simple fact that he or she is there to solve your problem, and the price charged is not reminiscent to a fruit sold at a Kenyan market that loses its original freshness concomitant to the time it spends on the shelf.
This is one of those problems that I come across on a regular basis where a client that watches too much DIY pay TV programmes thinks that the job you do as the handy or repairs man carries the same value as what the ‘expert’ on the pay TV channel put.

The truth is that every job comes with its own challenges, and those challenges are part of the final cost of the entire job.
The reality is that, due to stinginess, many of the clients I have come across end hiring ‘cheap labour (bo-kea tseba)’ who do more damage than good due to simple inexperience or lack of the right skill to perform a certain task.

When such handyman blunders occur, the experts get called and the clients expect the miracle that the charge will be lower than what the shoddy pseudo-expert that bungled the job in the first place charged. The fact is simple: if you hired the wrong person to waste your money with their inexperienced hands and uncultured minds, I actually deserve more because I come in to correct someone’s mess (to wipe their bottoms) and to fix their mistakes, some of which actually demand that one has to first tear down the entire structure and build it from scratch.

Over the years, I have learnt that one of the true sources of the culture of non-payment lies in the idiom of expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt” for those that become too familiar with one end up not paying, and the excuse is often the dismissive phrase, “U ngoana lapeng akere (you are part of the family now)” as if being the client’s family member will actually pay the rent and bills.
The truth is that we do not do the jobs we do because we want to, for in this state of poverty, one cannot afford to be pursuing hobbies.

We handymen (or women) actually work because necessity dictates so and if we don’t wake up in the morning with our hammers and drills, our square rules and spirit levels in our equipment kits, then our children will surely starve and we might end up on the streets evicted because we couldn’t pay the month’s rent.
The basis of the profession lies in one being professional, which sometimes means that one should not get too comfortable with the client who might just end thinking that you should not be paid for the services rendered because “you are now family, or brother from another mother, or distant cousin…” money makes the world go round, and I go around looking for maintenance and repair jobs because I need to make enough of it to cover my basic needs and comforts for the children I brought into this world.

There is sometimes disconnection with the reality of the job on the part of the client that looks over your shoulder as you perform the job at hand. Letting the client watch you as you do the job sometimes has them thinking that the job is too easy (and therefore cheap).
This stems from the simple understanding that the job looks easy to do because you have had years of constant practice hammering in nails, following the builder’s line, or following the paint roller up and down the many walls in the early years.
It takes more than the eye and the hand to do a job, it takes experience and constant practice to reach a certain level of mastery of the craft where the hand and eye coordination level is super.
As the surgeon is well paid to make the cut in the skin or organ of the patient, so should the cabinetmaker whose joints are flawless and his engravings inspire visions of far-away paradises in the mind of the beholder of their work.

There is simply no job that is easy, and why jobs are paid on this skewed basis just escapes my understanding and it leads me to the notion that there must at a certain point in history have come the malicious notion and decision that some jobs are more important than others based more on human ego than truth.
The spark plug in an engine is cheaper than the piston, but the piston cannot go up and down in the combustion shaft without it present in the engine.

Those small insignificant jobs and people are actually the sparkplugs that keep the economy running, for the little that they spend to pass their long days actually counts for much in terms of sustaining the tax and capital bases in the larger macro-economy of the state.
There is a way one can survive as a handyman without relying on government policy, but the weakness of this notion is that it offers one no security especially when it comes to the issue of collecting debts from non-paying clients.

There are courts to settle such debt disputes but the truth is that there are no policies or mechanisms that make the service providers aware of their right to collect debts from non-paying or reluctant clients.
The average handyman hasn’t gone to school to the level where they can understand the bills of rights with regard to the processes involved in the collection of payments due to them.
This leaves the clients with more room to exploit the labour used in the course of the maintenance or repair job (because most of them are aware that the handyman is unregistered).
Not everyone can register or if I may rightly ask: is there a department in any ministry that addresses the needs of small to medium size maintenance and repair businesses?
Without such a basis for the registration of this type of professionals, it simply means that they stay out there on the fringes where they are exploited on the basis of their being unknown entities despite the real fiscal input into the economy their earnings contribute in differing ways.

This past week, I sat down with a senior citizen who I really enjoy working for due to her sense of understanding in terms of the significance of what I do in the form of repair and maintenance jobs around her house.

She pays on time, no matter how big or little the charge, and her argument is always simple, “you have to feed the children and travel to get here…” our relationship has over the years morphed me into the kind of individual that deems senior citizens the best clients one can have as a handyman: they have a shrewd sense of judgement that has them shunning debt at all costs.
The credit card generation who were my peers on campus are actually the worst clients. These ones are that type of clients that are always bargaining (as if I am selling rotten chicken feet and not services they need), and if they cannot bargain resort to their DIY pay TV programmes as points of judgement of the actual cost of the job.

If these two tactics fail, they then reveal the beast in them in the form of non-payment forcing one to spend more than they will earn chasing payment. There is a virus that has grown over the years that has rendered a lot of individuals indifferent to the basic needs of those that do jobs for them.
Erasing this culture means that all should understand that work is never play, it is work, and work done needs to be paid for on time so the worker has enough to sustain them to the next job. We do not need debt-collectors but actually need a people that value each other and the tasks they perform without self-conceit. Pay for the service you receive.

BY; Tšepiso S Mothibi

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