|FAREWELL SPEECH |
Imran tried to imagine what his farewell speech would be, if he was made to walk out of his present job. He has already attended a couple of farewell morning teas rolled out for a number colleagues in his work-place. Only one colleague ended his career on his own term, while the others had to accept redundancy. He has been working as Senior Planning Engineer, Brisbane Water, a leading water retailer of Australia, for more than 3 years and was looking to continue few more before retiring. This has become uncertain with the current downturn in the job market which began when the Liberal Party came into power after their resounding victory in Queensland state parliament election. The ruling Liberal Party has already chopped off thousands job in a bid to return to surplus budget and was determined to do more. Who knew what more job-cut plans they have up in their sleeves!
Job-cuts in Imran’s organisation came in the guise of re-structuring – a common ploy in this country, perhaps anywhere in western world, to cut down the cost of running an organisation behind the smokescreen of drive for efficiency and productivity. Re-structuring or reform of Imran’s organisation began last year, which immediately spawned speculations of the impending job cut. The big bosses at the top started volleying their reform ideas to the hapless employees in a series of presentations. The net result: three posts of General Manager were created at the top hierarchy, while a number of managerial posts abolished and couple of sections merged to downsize the staff numbers, leaving the fate of incumbent position holders in balance. As the road to reform slowly demystified, the fates of the staff not making to this journey were sealed one by one.
The most recent farewell morning tea that Imran attended turned beyond everybody’s imagination something into a funeral ceremony, when the departing staff, a Manager, could not hold back his feeling of utter disappointment and shock, and broke down soon after he began his farewell speech. He hardly spoke few sentences when his swelling emotion spilled out - he started sobbing, his voice quivered and body twisted. He somehow pulled himself together - a virtuoso of these English speaking people, wholeheartedly agreed by Imran, and finished his speech. The uncertainty looming large in the minds of all present made the atmosphere gloomy. Imran met this guy many times in office corridors and exchanged Hi and Hallows – he was all smiles and easy going; now it looks like the heaven has come crashing down on him. His emotional outburst did overwhelm his group of female staff as well and they silently wept – sending out waves of compassion to this poor man’s tortured soul. Later on Imran found out that this guy’s section has been merged with another leaving him high and dry. It was like our Bangladeshi minister without portfolio, with the difference that our minister, although without power, can enjoy all the benefits of a ministerial position. The outgoing manager had served the organisation with distinction for long years, well-settled in life with his family. Now he has been put aside by his organisation and his bitterness about this treatment would be hard for him to swallow.
Since migrating to Australia about a decade back, Imran like many other migrants fell into the vicious cycle of job hunt. The cycle is something like that: You are hired by a rising company, the company enjoys a period of boom – lots of work, then something happens in international economy, contracts dry up for the company and it rings alarm bell for the midlevel personnel like Imran; managers and executives remain untouched because they have a job ahead to steer the company ship out of rough waters and to eke out a new survival strategy. Then one day you are shown the exit door and you start polishing your CV and armed with that start knocking at the recruiting agents and send out desperate calls to your professional network. In the last eight or nine years, Imran had a similar number of jobs, all contract ones – a few of them lasted for about couple of months. Permanent jobs eluded him all along till the one he is doing now. Permanency in job is a misnomer in Australia and elsewhere in western countries. This is the reality here, as one would understand, in stark contrast to Bangladesh, where one once employed in a government job can last till his retirement. Sometime, resignation from a government job in Bangladesh can take months, even years because of bureaucratic bungle.
For about three years after the global financial crisis, Imran has been enjoying a period of relative calm and economic prosperity, offered by the present job towards the end of his career. Even this period had few hiccups, you could say, small shake-ups before a major upheaval. Although he was able to avoid redundancy, he had to enter a new contract with his employer which stripped him of few previous incentives. But the fear of redundancy was not gone; every now and then speculations of redundancy would pop up and shatter the illusion of job security, when someone fed with tip-offs from head office spoke out his concern to his team members. Actually, Imran was very much conscious of this reality and he realized prevention of redundancy was not an option, if he was in the firing line. That’s why he has been preparing himself for this eventuality to make his exit with some dignity.
Since the beginning of this job-cut in Imran’s work-place, Imran regularly shared with Rehana, his wife of about 30 years, what’s happening in his office. Rehana has been by Imran’s side through his tumultuous career and shared both his jubilations of getting a new job and sense of despair when it came to an end. But this was never like before, being engaged in a psychological warfare against the adversity of life lurking in the dark. She didn’t show any visible signs of worry in the past. As Imran poured out today’s gloomy tale of the outgoing manager to Rehana, she was quite moved, while in the back of her mind she experienced a heightened awareness of life’s fragility. Unable to hide her inner turmoil, she almost broke down, “What we are going to do, if it happens to you?” “I have started looking for jobs elsewhere”, Imran replied vaguely, as his attention was drawn to the TV footage of hundreds protesting on the street against the impending job-cuts in public health sector.
The semi-paranoid about the job-cut was affecting Rehana. Almost everyday, when Imran reached home after the day’s work, Rehana would often ask him the question, “What’s latest happening in your office?” Imran tired from office, would work out a smile for her to assure that he was still at bay from redundancy. When they went to bed following the daily rituals of dinner and watching TV programs, a short bed-time conversation would ensue. Imran opened up, “You know, two girls of the customer service were given farewell today.”
“What happened to them?”
“Their contracts expired and not renewed; poor girls!, now they will have to queue at the Centrelink for the dole and look for jobs, which would not be easy given the dull job market.”
Imran felt the concern of Rehana. He knew, if job-cut strike him like a lightning from blue, they would be in the same boat as many others have already been made to be.
Imran drew Rehana close to him, “Don’t worry; so far I didn’t hear anything about our section. We are quite busy at the moment and my performance is well-regarded by my boss”.
Rehana moaned with sleepy eyes trying to remain awake, “I rather worry for you. You have to remain busy to keep you going and cheerful.” Imran understands what Rehana implied – when they first came to Australia they had a terrible time without job and with Centrelink’s meagre support. And Imran almost became depressed. Only a resurging job market buoyed by the mining boom brought about by the steeply rising Chinese economy came to their rescue. Imran kissed the sleepy eyes of Rehana, then whispered into her ear, “We have come a long way Rehana and we have seen times both good and bad. Even if we have to face bad time, we would see through it together. Let’s not worry now and go to sleep.”
Imran stopped talking about job-cuts in his office after realization of its toll on Rehana. It seemed the tide of first major job-cut in the office has ebbed. Imran didn’t hear any further job-cut in the office. For the time being the atmosphere of uncertainty took a back-seat giving the employees a respite to move on.
The year was drawing to an end and x-mass was knocking at the door. The atmosphere in Imran’s work-place turned pregnant with the staff’s expectation about x-mass celebration and the long holiday. All around the staff radiated happiness and joy and engaged in chatting about their holiday plans. Office work slowed down and plans for x-mass celebration in work place were rolled out well ahead of x-mass day. Plans included x-mass lunch, x-mass morning tea and competition for group-wise x-mass decoration, Secret Santa and Raffle Draw. The Sri Lankan female colleague of Imran’s team put on a decoration with all her team members reaching out for help. The whole office floor decorated with x-mass outfits exuded all around happiness and joy: the uncertainty about job cut all but was erased from the staff’s minds.
On the x-mass eve, Imran and Rehana went to Brisbane city centre to watch x-mass celebration. At the city centre, they merged with the crowd lined in wait for the X-mass party to parade through the city centre. This x-mass parade has been happening for the last two years, sponsored by the fashion retailer giant Myer. First the kids came along dancing and singing x-mass carols and waving to the cheering crowds, followed by teen age boys and girls beating drums - the marching kids and teen age boys and girls put on red and white dress. Then marched the artists, who performed a ballet piece from Nut Cracker Suite, the world famous x-mass ballet. Some of them leaped into the air, some somersaulted in sheer ecstasy. A few paused on their march to offer a selphie snapshot to the more flamboyant members from the watching crowd. In this festive mood, everybody was happy and no distinction could be made about the degree of happiness writ on the faces of crowd. Among the crowd, who knew, there could be jobless ones or people coping through tight budget or even had terminal patients back at home to care about. The joy and sprit of x-mass permeated the hearts of Imran and Rehana. Finally, the carriage of Santa Clouse driven by two deer came hopping along. The Santa waved his hands to the cheering crowd and as it passed by Imran, he was greeted by the Santa by his smiling face with a blinking eye. Imran thought: Did he know this guy masquerading as Santa, being aware that the guy performing as Santa could be a hired one. Many casually work as Santa during x-mass at shopping malls to entertain kids, in the process earning some bucks to feed themselves.
The day before x-mass holiday, Imran received a letter neatly tucked into an official envelope marked, “Confidential” left on his desk. Seeing the letter in Imran’s hand, his team leader Richard joked,“ Your termination letter; may be we are here for another farewell morning tea.” Imran laughed but with a fleeting shade of gloom on his face. Richard came to his cheerful self instantly and patted on Imran’s back saying,” You have in the envelope something to cheer about.” Imran regained his composure and returned his compliment, “I could guess”.
Imran took the letter home and gave it to Rehana, pretending to be sad. Rehana was not sure what to do but she was fooled into believing in something ominous about the envelope after watching Imran’s carefully crafted disappointment on his face. She cried out, “Don’t tell me you have lost your ….!” Imran couldn’t pretend for long – it was against his nature. Finally, he broke into a smile that assured Rehana that it was nothing that sort. Rehana took a long breathe, then without bothering to look at the letter, gingerly put down the envelope on the tea table. Her face brightened up for the moment and then she spoke to Imran almost in a hushed voice, “You know, I have applied for a casual job with Coles and they have invited me to an interview tomorrow. It’s only fair that I give you a hand… “