Friday, September 02, 2005

Adventures of the Free Market

I spent 9 weeks this summer dabbling in the capitalist utopia which is tree planting and perhaps piecework in general. Though I must admit I was thoroughly disappointed that there weren’t swarms of Young Tories and College Republicans making a pilgrimage to practice what they preach. In fact quotes like "I keep the Bible in a pool of blood so its lies won’t affect me" and "Does anyone have any hard drugs besides coke" convinced me many planters simply are not College Republican material.

The way the system works is that for every tree you plant they gave you a specified amount of money depending on the size of the tree and the type of ground. For example big pod on unprepared ground is 9.5 cents each while small pod on prepared ground is 7.5 cents each. Personally I made way more money with the small pods on "prepared" ground. Sounds great right? You work by yourself if you slack off you make less money and if you gave all you are rewarded with more money. Free enterprise bliss eh?

Well the problem is that like anything there is a catch. The most notable one is the camp fee. Twenty Five dollars per working day. I never got to see 25% of my wages as a result. So the company requires their workers to pay for transport and food. (Accommodation is a tent you bought yourself) No living allowance essentially. Depending on the company camp fees decline depending on the number of trees you plant but that de facto only applies to veteran planters. As a rule rookie planters get screwed.

Besides camp fees whenever the company screws up you pay for it. One example- We are on our 54th working day (very long season) trying to finish up this shitty contract we got stuck with. Takes our bus 30-40 mins to get there (fairly typical) takes us over 30 mins to walk thru a swamp to get to a river. The one old 2 wheel drive ATV has broken down and the swamp buggy can't make it across the river. So we haul over 30 pounds of trees each another half hour of walking. Finally we get there and it’s shaping up to be the hottest day of the season. So far no has made a cent. By the end of the day its even hotter I have had to get trees one more times and I cant even think as everyone has run out of water. Everyone has heat exhaustion but still have to finish the land or we'll just have to work another. Probably my hardest day and I just put in quota (1000 trees or less then minimum wage with camp fees deducted).

And there was another day where we had to go to 2 sites and I counted 7 hours of transit (buses, swamp buggy and feet) but I officially planted a little less then quota because I planted a couple hundred for other people to finish the land quicker.

The flip side is that sometimes things work out well- short commute (10 mins) short walk-in(10-20 mins) or better yet no walk-in, trees all delivered, mediocre to good land and not below zero or above 40. When this all walked out with like 2 weeks left all the rookies hit 2000 (125 after camp costs), the next day I hit 3000 (200 after camp costs).

You have to look at the rookie season as a 'training wage' period where you have to gain experience and skill. A rare few can hit 2k on their 4th day out- most however take 6 weeks at my camp at least. Few might never hit it. But at least with this training wage when you have gotten to the 3k level the employer will always have to pay you at the 3k.

Over all with deductions included I made a grand every fortnight which the equivalent to a 12 dollar an hour 40 hours per week and that is slightly more then a 'living wage'. If I can not find a full summer job that pays that much I'll go back to half summer seasonal work. But the funny part is that I would be perfectly fine with doing tree planting again despite its long hours many of them unpaid and sometimes dangerous situations i.e. heat exhaustion because hell it can be a lot of fun and its tough manual outdoor labour. Definitely not a do nothing movie theatre job eh?


Anonymous Taylor said...

wow did one of my dream jobs. still hoping to do that one year when i get back. or maybe i'll just be a smoke jumper haha. still waiting for a cuba update, man you had one of the sickest summers ever!

3/9/05 07:09  
Anonymous TS said...

I finally got the internet the other day so it has taken me a while to get to all the things that I've wanted to do online. That's too bad that the tree planting doesn't attract much of the college republican material. With the crowd you hung around with I'm sure there was never a dull moment. About twelve bucks an hour forty hours a week is not bad if you ask me, beats my 7.90 at Safeway hands down. Despite the hard work it sounds like you had a great time, but I guess being out in the bush all summer is your idea of a good time. I like the occasional jaunt with nature but working out in it every day would be a little much for me. Can't wait to talk to you in person and hear some of the crazy stories.
PS Like T Booth said where is the cuba update?

18/9/05 10:59  

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