Monday, 8 February 2016

Wanted: Slave(s). Formerly called Gardeners.

I'm a member of the PGG (Professional Gardeners' Guild) and it is a running joke within the Guild that some job adverts seem to have been left over from the Dark Ages, when slavery was perfectly acceptable and the lower classes Knew Their Place, and were grateful for a tied cottage over their heads. (Until they grew too old to work, of course, whereupon they were unceremoniously evicted, but that's another story.)

One of my fellow Guild Members was incensed recently over this little gem:

"Gardener 40hr week + Housekeeper 25hr.Would suit couple. - Committed gardener duties include experienced care especially large kitchen garden, general property maintenance, driving, care of pool, cleaning cars, security, handyperson & errands as necessary."

A "large" kitchen garden, huh? Traditionally the work of more than person, just by itself. Then we have the black hole of "general property maintenance"; what exactly do they mean by that - painting the outside? Cleaning third-floor gutters? Washing the windows? Changing light bulbs?

Next we have "Driving". How is your 2-in-1 full-time gardener and full-time maintenance man supposed to get those jobs done while he is out driving, I wonder? Oh, and he has to take care of the pool as well (which probably involves ordering and collecting the chemicals, cleaning out the pump, swabbing the decks, painting the changing room and clearing fallen leaves), AND clean the cars AND deal with security (which usually means being on call all night) AND be a handyperson ... and on top of that lot, he has to run errands as well!

The other half doesn't fare much better. "Housekeeper duties all household cleaning, laundry, cooking to dinner party standard, some help in garden, PA skills helpful."

Now, call me old fashioned, but traditionally a Housekeeper went about checking that the jobs had been done by cleaners, laundry-maids, cordon-bleu cook, etc etc. But they expect this poor soul to help out in the garden as well, but not to exceed her 25 hours/week remit.  (Does she get penalised if she can't get it all done within 25 hours? Is it like the opposite of overtime - you get docked £7 for every hour extra you have to put in? ) And what exactly do they mean by "PA skills helpful", I wonder? Fair enough, they might want someone who can answer the phone with more than "Wot?", but what else do they expect - shorthand and typing?  Spreadsheets and pivot tables? In-depth knowledge of marketing and social media representation for whatever business they are in?

As if all that wasn't fun enough, the advert continues "Both to be drivers and help with dogs and chickens. 4 bed bungalow. Long term position for right couple - start asap."

So they want smallholders, on top of everything else? They are offering a 4 bedroom bungalow, but who on earth is going to have time to fill all those roles if they have children? Or - horror of horrors - are they expected to share it with another couple, which would presumably be the Groom/Butler/IT specialist  (also responsible for wine cellar and investment portfolio)  and his wife the Nanny/ Dressmaker/Nail Artist (with additional experience of ballet tuition to professional level).

And they want these miracle workers asap, which suggests that  the last couple must have walked off the job - or simply died of exhaustion.

Then there was this, from The Lady magazine:

"Experienced Shepherd, Gardener, Handyperson and Driver"

Please note, they want an experienced shepherd. Not an inexperienced one. Notwithstanding the many years it takes to build up the experience you'd need to be a shepherd in the first place, you would have to be a gardener (experienced) as well, and a handyperson (to high standard, no doubt), and yet, in between all those jobs, you would have to smarten yourself up, put on clean clothes and drive these people around. And even that is not as innocuous as it sounds: are they talking about the daily school run, which in itself can easily take upwards of 2 hours a day away from the sheep, the garden, and the maintenance?  Or are you driving one of them into town for a late meeting, getting home at 2am? This has actually happened to one of my colleagues, who was regularly expected to drive late at night, yet also expected to appear bright and early next morning as usual.

Then there was this equally disgraceful one in  Horticulture Weekly, who ought to know better:

"Live In Handyman / Driver / Gardener / Estate Worker Job, Northumberland"

Are you ready for this lot?

"Our client are looking for [their grammer, not mine!] an experienced Handyman to run a large property in Northumberland. This will both be Full Time live in role for a family in a large private house who entertain on a regular basis. This is a large family home which has traditional decor which needs an experienced handyman who has excellent references and attention to detail. You should be able to manage your own time and keep the home to a high standard both inside and out. The Handyman needs to be experienced with general maintenance preferably including joinery and can look after the property and grounds to a high standard. Handyman role is for an experienced and responsible person, with good building knowledge. Work will include the maintenance of the principal residence along with the residential and agricultural property on the wider estate. Candidates should have a sound understanding of Health & Safety in the built environment and have excellent interpersonal skills. Duties to include running errands, helping with airport runs when the family go away, washing the cars, General Handyman role both inside and out the properties and security. A full clean driving license is essential and excellent references will be required. "

There are several aspects of this that make my blood boil: for a start, it reads as though they started out advertising for a couple, then changed it to be just one person. Then there is the way that the "handyman" has to be a "joiner" as well, ie can make furniture (or install flat-pack kitchen units?) to a professional standard, and is good enough to maintain their precious house with its "traditional decor" which requires better than the usual mere handyman skills. And the casual use of "inside and out" which could mean insulating the loft, painting the outside, installing new double glazing, fixing the drawers, nailing the roof slates back on, servicing the central heating boiler, oiling hinges, oh, and one of the stairs is squeaking, can you just fix that? I'm not even going to mention the fact that Gardener - my chosen profession - only ranks third out of their wonderful job description.  But what really makes me spit is that they have described three full-time, experienced, professional jobs, and have then tacked on another part-time job - that's the driving part - and yet they still think one person would just love to do it all.

It's as though these people all think that they are living in Downton Abbey, but fail to realise that a real-life Downton Abbey would have a designated person for each and every job.

The whole thing was summed up beautifully by my fellow Guild Member Nicky Howard, who is Head Gardener at a lovely private Estate not far from me:

"You would never see an advert that said "Vacancy for Butcher - must be able to make a Swiss roll, plaster a ceiling and be competent at macramé" Why do they expect gardeners to also be handymen, chauffeurs and small holders??"


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  1. Be very wary of these people and their agents I speak from experience things have not changed in their world.

  2. Hi Eddie,

    Don't worry - I would not swap being self-employed ("Independent") for anything!

    As a member of the Professional Gardeners' Guild, a lot of my fellow Guild members are what I call "Estate" gardeners, and the tales they tell regularly make me gasp in disbelief.

    I suppose in fairness I should say that some of them work for very nice, considerate employers, in fabulous surroundings, with big budgets and the ability to create, and to contribute to the Estate.

    Unfortunately, not all of them, though. I hope that you are not currently under the heel of an oppressor, Eddie?

  3. This is really funny. I came across this when looking for a companion after my husbands death recently. I am amazed but not really surprised that these people expect a one man or woman miracle worker think of the poor maid of all works after the war. Up with God clean, cook, child mind, clean and light the fires and keep them burning, shop, launder, empty the guzunders, make the beds and when half dead and the last family member has retired a last tidy up and drop on the spot in your bed often in the scullery. Sadly if people are desperate with no home to call their own they are tempted to give it a try and that is what these nobs rely on.

    1. So true, so true.... and even if they can find a job that is "just" gardening, there seems to be another misconceoption, that working in a beautiful garden - especially with a tied cottage - is somehow reward enough in itself: so to expect a decent wage for it is unthinkable.

      Thank the heavens that I'm self-employed!

  4. Good to see this. I passed my degree in Horticulture in 2000 and quickly realised that the bulk of Horticultural employment is based on serfdom as you’ve demonstrated here or the absolute bottom of the barrel vacancies posted by supposed recruitment professionals.
    Hort’ Week is no better. Literally every tradesman I know faired far better than myself despite the education. Sadly, I would not advise anyone follow a path in Horticulture. On top of the pitiful remuneration and expectancy to doff your cap to employers, you get back breaking work in freezing winters.
    I sometimes have a laugh at Horticulture Week and the terrible jobs on offer. Twenty years on, they STILL advertise for experienced and educated gardeners for the 20k mark. Its insulting. I switched to amenity horticulture and landscaping straight out of uni. At least I got to multi skill; there was no way I was enacting some dickensian nonsense; butler, gardener, general dogs body / slave. I don’t know how Hort’ Week has the nerve to advertise the crap they do.

    1. It's good that you/we/'one' can still laugh at these dreadful job adverts!

      I don't know how some of these recruitment agencies can look at themselves in the mirror. In the PGG, we went through a phase of militantly contacting every agency offering a crap job for crap wages, and telling them how wrong it was in this day and age.

      Also pointing out the HUGE number of those jobs which contravened the minimum wage requirement.

      They never replied... not one of them.. one particularly strident member used to contact direct advertisers in The Lady and rant at them.

      But 'at the end of the day', as they say, the adverts continue, the attitude continues - Long Live Being Self-Employed!!!!


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