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I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.

The Sub Contractors

I would like to share an amusing story with you that happened way back in the early eighties on an oil industry construction site. The site itself was close to my home town and I had, indeed, worked there for that company for some five years, before being made redundant years earlier. When I worked there from when the site first started and nearly all of the workers were local men that had been trained up to do their particular jobs. It was not uncommon to see a person - who, for some reason or other, turned out to be, well let's just say not as competent as they should have been, or were a poor time keeper - promoted to a supervisory position. The point of view taken by the American managers at the time was that they had invested a lot in that mans training, so wanted something back at least. And, as the site grew in size as did the workforce, these men, of course, worked their way up the ladder.

I had been away for a few years working offshore and overseas before finding my way back to that site as a sub contracted welding inspector. Of course being a 'subbie' meant that I could not expect to be treated like before, as subbies were basically just a necessary evil to them. The point being that we earned more than the local workers, but we were hired and fired as the job progressed, so we never had the same job security.

I had noticed a lot of changes since my last visit, the main one being that they now had no less than five levels of management, the latest one being called section manager. I also knew a lot of these section managers from their earlier days. This new management structure started from Leader–man, supervisor, senior supervisor, section manager, area manager to site superintendent and I knew a lot of them at various levels.

I was working as supervisor in charge of the repair team, trying desperately to have as many of the repairs done before the structure was lifted into the vertical position. However, despite our efforts, there were still some small repairs to complete which meant we had to go up in baskets suspended from a crane. This was costly so we had to complete the repairs as quickly as possible; this meant that I and the NDT1 man would go up with the welders to complete all testing work at the same time.

The fact that my whole crew was subbies made this part of the job a lot easier, as we had to be flexible and keep working throughout some breaks in order to speed the process up. So we worked close together and, indeed, we were a good team even though we all worked for different companies or agencies.

It was common practice for the company not to tell the site agents that their men were going to be paid off until the end of the last actual shift. This concept was not at all popular with the site agents or indeed the men as it never gave them time to organise their accommodations or indeed prepare for such an event! So, whenever word was out about intended pay-offs the site agents always seemed to be able to inform the men who were in fact going to be paid off well in advance. This gave the men a lot more time and some even managed to find other employment in that time.

We had been up in the basket for two hours on a wet and windy day and had worked right through the half hour lunch break, as we all headed straight for the dinner hut as soon as we got back down. It was common for us to work through these breaks as we were racing time and just had to have this work completed before the painters moved in.
The two welders were from Glasgow and the NDT man from Newcastle so we all had good banter between us as we were a small team. The welders went right down to the bottom of this long hut where their table was and I stayed up at the top end to heat us up some water for our teas in the microwave oven.

Then out of the blue this manager, whom I recognized as one of the type I mentioned earlier, came rushing in, gave me a blank stare and headed down towards the welders. This manager was very much influenced by the American bosses, so he wore a denim jacket with matching jeans and swanked as he walked towards them. They were playing cards and never moved an inch as he walked closer, nor did they flinch when he stamped his boot up on to the seat part of the bench. After glaring at his watch for a few seconds, he shouted at them asking if they knew the time, as the dinner break had finished some twenty minutes earlier. They replied that they did and just carried on.

By now this manager was getting really angry and he tilted back his gold hard hat, which had five rows of information on it givin his job description done with dyne tape, and demanded to know if they knew who he in fact he was! Then with out even a pause, one of the welders said to his mate,
'There you go Jimmy. I told you these managers were cowboys, there's one who does not even know his name.'

This really seemed to upset the manager as he started to jump up and down pointing at the welders and screaming that were sacked! To which one of the welders replied,
'We know that already, our site agent told us on Monday, were working our weeks notice.'

With this, and if he had not been humiliated enough already, the manager stormed back up towards me screaming that he would get them somehow. When he arrived beside me, I asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee, yet I could not stop laughing as I asked him. He drew me yet another blank stare and stormed away into the rain.

The whole incident left me glowing inside as I walked up to join my fellow subbies with the coffee; I was not supposed to be in that canteen, as I was a supervisor, yet I still felt more at ease with my own kind.

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