An Office Life: 5 Woven Labels

Temporary Short Time Working Supplement

Who remembers that? In Bell Woven it ran from 1979 to 1982. By that time I’d been in their employment for 3 years. 3 yeas is a lifetime if it’s your first job – apart from paper rounds and spots of holiday work, this it was. Part of my daily rota included updating a splendid A0 size chart in the Managing Director’s office. I took pains to do this (a ten second operation) while he was out. Disturb the powerful at risk. His office was invariably guarded by Claire Mahoney, his Secretary. Offend her at your peril – I always checked it was okay to do my daily update with her first.

Updating this chart was a matter of some consequence – what I was doing was updating the % efficiency figure which determined the bonus; I plotted the daily efficiency as well as the cumulative to date. Now pretty early on I cottoned on to the fact that pretty much all senior management believed that this figure: the one that determined bonus payment, was plant utilisation. I knew different; I calculated the figure and they didn’t. It included all kinds of enhancements – for example oiling the looms – an allowance of 30 minutes for each loom was made for the engineering assistant to do oiling. That was a normal part of operation. If a weaver was absent or if the weaving shed was running at below capacity, an allowance was granted. These allowances ensured that weaver motivation wasn’t unnecessarily sapped by clusters of 0% efficiencies for stopped looms. In practise this was a better tool than berating weavers to work harder, a motivated workforce is a happier environment and everyone benefits.

This circles back to the point on daily efficiency; senior management had fallen into a way of thinking that treated enhanced efficiency as a measure of plant utilisation. In practise the enhanced efficiency had three components:

0 – basic efficiency (in effect plant utilisation)

1 – enhancements for allowable stoppages, such as oiling, and twisting (replacing the warp at the back of the loom)

2 – enhancements for stoppages outside the control of the weaving shed, such as no weaver (explained above), no order (a prompt for the sales office), design query… etc etc.

Senior management were under the impression that the enhanced efficiency I regularly published was 0 + 1 + a very occasional, teeny-weeny element of 2. Categorisation of stopped time was a highly political matter because it involved pointing the finger of blame. The get-around was to publish the unadorned, basic efficiency. This in itself was a challenge as I first had to convince my boss, who himself had to be convinced, that (a) redesign of the daily report was essential and (b) a substantial opportunity to kick-ass and get the business firing on all cylinders was being hidden under a comfort blanket of kludge and fudge. For example, in the table below, a significant drop in basic efficiency is largely concealed by the outcome in enhanced efficiency – as things stood this was never published and so was never noticed.

Example basic efficiency stoppages: 1 stoppages: 2 enhanced efficiency
1 78% 5% 2% 85%
2 70% 4% 10% 84%

Ongoing grumbles aside, I got this change in place before the end of 1977.

This matter became of much greater significance by 1979. The Iranian Revolution had caused a panic in the oil markets; a second oil shock was on the cards; this duly impacted on developed nations such as the UK. The run up to this was the 1978 Winter of Discontent in which the Labour government under James Callaghan attempted to control inflation by restricting pay rises of public sector workers to 5% or less. Unofficial strikes by gravedigger, strikes by refuse workers, NHS ancillary workers blocked hospital entrances an unofficial TGWU lorry drivers strike closed petrol stations all over the country… and the unions were deeply politicised. All this was the run in to the 1979 – 1984 recession.

Factory output plummeted; the enhanced efficiency remained above 80%, thus leaving open the possibility of a bonus, if Belwoven could afford it; Basic Efficiency fell like a stone – it fell from around 75% to 55%. Weavers were put on short time, as was I – I worked three days / week.

The government set up a scheme to proportionately subsidise businesses who put their staff onto short time working.

Alongside the daily efficiency chart, behind the Managing Director’s desk, another A0 chart went up, the TSTWS chart to monitor our short time working. 

Three days a week wasn’t enough to stay on top of my job; work began to pile up. In addition, I’d volunteered to help Jim Langley, the textiles buyer, in the monthly physical stock checks. Plus I’d begun evening classes at Burnley College of Design and Technology; a Higher National Certificate in Business Studies. In addition to this I had a further course of self study: great philosophers, literary figures, historians and mathematicians through history, by reference to the 30 volume edition of Encyclopedia Britannica held in Colne Library (a little light reading at lunch time – the library was 10 minutes walk).

About Terence Park

Collections: vinyl records, comic books, paperbacks; I've plenty of them all. I also do spreadsheets.
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