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Alnwickdote No 14 - Never dismissing too lightly?

Some of the best training provided for all kinds of interview skills is given by John Cleese of Monty Python fame.  The Chief Executive mentioned below did not have the benefit of this.

If there has been one constant over the years in my career at home and abroad, it has been to be called upon to handle or advise on dismissing people from their jobs.  It is not an enviable task.  It always has to be done properly in accordance with due justice.  And people like me can’t forget any of the cases, usually because of the sadness and failure that surrounds them.

Sometimes though you can’t help wondering and laughing….

Some cases leave an indelible mark.  “The Spanish Lesbian Lover Letter” that helped decide that a female carer was indeed abusing a mentally-ill girl.  Then there was the time the Chief Executive and I argued strongly, one of my earliest clashes with those in authority.  He thought he had the power to dismiss an employee.  He didn’t (the power was delegated elsewhere), which is just as well as he was wrong in his analysis.

Whereas misconduct or poor performance was the main reason for dismissals in the UK, overseas it is invariably financial impropriety right up until my last case a few weeks ago, although the second one I describe below was a mix of both.

In tune with my “Alnwickdote” theme, two cases stand out because they were different and had their funny side. In local parlance, the subjects were unable to "keep their feet still", the title of a North Eastern song you can hear here.

“The Westcountry Way.”

The Boss of the Mechanical Division was a serious, conscientious guy, a bit of a disciplinarian.  One day he ticked off a young mechanic for some demeanour but the lad responded rather vociferously, leading to a gross misconduct hearing before the Chief Engineer.  I was there to advise him professionally whether there were grounds for dismissal and the local Trade Union Union Official was defending the mechanic.

The Boss (Mr A) gave his description of what had transpired.  It was a fairly matter-of-fact account devoid of any colourful language.

The Mechanic (Mr B) then gave his version of the story.  “Well Mr A, he came up behind me, and sounded me off, I were doing something wrong with wrench-spanner.  That’s not first time.  He picks on me.

“Were you doing something wrong?

“Maybe I was, too tight, knackered threads!”

“So why did you not just accept the criticism, what did you do?”

“I just snapped.  I told Mr A he was a “f******g c***!”

The Chief Engineer managed to control himself, got up, turned his back to gaze out of his office window,  hiding his face.

“And tell me, Mr B, if I come to the workshop and tell you off, what would say to me?”

“I’d call you a “f******g c***!” too”!

At which point hilarity ensued.  We did not dismiss the lad, but after advice from his Trade Union officer; an apology and warning, he turned out as a model employee.

“The Silver Moto Gang” (A moto is short for motor-cycle in Cambodia)

I began to notice that all was not well with staff rostered to return every Friday from their districts for the weekly meeting.  Then we found that some were not to be found in their districts Friday mornings.  “What is going on?” “Nothing of course……X had to go home his wife was sick!”  You gave permission?  “Yes!”

The tell-tale look gave it away.  So with a trusted colleague (so I thought at the time), we decided to delve a little deeper.  Our suspicions were well-founded.  We soon found the fleet of 6 silver motor-cycles were returning Thursday afternoons, but where?  The rules were clear, at night they had to be stored in approved district or HQ locations.  It was a surprising twist that led us to find out that our staff, led by the Administrative Officer supposed to be responsible for the rules, had taken to Thursday night karaoke gatherings.  But they all denied it at first.  There was no proof.  Nothing seemed to come of the story.

Just two weeks passed, but sure enough one Thursday evening, I saw one silver moto heading off the main road down a track that housed only one establishment.  I called my “trusted” colleague to join me, to help with any interpretation from English to/from Khmer, and we visited the place.

The moto was nowhere to be seen, the place was quiet, except for the karaoke hostesses, who of course in this place, offered extra personal services at an extra price naturally.

We sat in the front yard, where moto’s of clients would park, drinking our slow beers. We waited and waited.  No-one came.  The hostesses were not happy.  “Why don’t you pick us and go sing” “We are waiting for our friends, they are due soon!”

It was obvious that once again, we would not find out what was going on.  So we called for the bill, to go.  One of the girls ventured “Who are your friends?”  I replied Just some boys who work with us, they say they come here. I thought I saw one earlier on his moto” Oh, yes the silver moto gang! Yes they come every week, 2-3 times” “Silver Moto’s?” “Yes, because they all have the same motos!”

It may be a coincidence, there are many silver moto’s, do you know their names?” “Well there’s Mr Indian man, he’s big boss his favourite girl is…..over there, and then there’s XXX, he goes with S…, etc”. “Sorry, we don’t recognize them!” Then persisting she added “And S… said they are coming, he’s the one with….”.

At this point she described S’s distinct features, unmistakably one of our "boys".  They went on to describe the others in sufficient detail that their identities could not be in doubt.

The next day we had interesting an staff-meeting.  The group eventually made admissions. All but one were given final warnings for misuse of assets and failing to attend work as per their contracts.  The ring-leader, who was found to have committed other serious offences, was dismissed.

That was the end of the Silver Moto Gang!

A Siver Motor-Cycle being used properly for a community meeting
It was bringing cases like this to donors that led to some to change their rules "assets must stay in the service of the original target beneficiaries", unfortunately seldom enforced.  Please see this blog for more on this subject.

Update May 2018

The revelations of sexual abuse in Haiti by OXFAM staff has opened up controversy and perhaps knee-jerk solutions as well as loss of funding and confidence in "#foreignaid".  For some of us what happened is no surprise.  This blog here formed a contribution to major development comments based on my experience.  I also commented on Twitter for example:

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