Monday, 24 July 2017

O.D.O.

In my latest Saint Theo's Day video I refer to my portering career's transition from the delivery suite to the operating theatres, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/st-theos-day-2017.html. The story of how I left the theatres and returned to general service is a long and intricate one, as well as being very educational for me. To explain how it happened it is necessary to know a bit about the organisational structure of the John Radcliffe Hospital's Portering Department at the time. Unusually we had a single large department consisting of a general pool or "lodge" and specialized sections from the Portering Department were deployed to the various other departments, X ray, theatres, emergency etc. A porter can be made to serve anywhere within the remit of the portering job description. In most other hospitals, departments tend to employ their own porters and the general pool is completely independent. All this changed in 2005 when the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust entered into a contract with Carillion PLC to build the new six hundred million pound West Wing. (This deal was a plot designed to sabotage the NHS, see: http://hpanwo-hpwa.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/the-nhs-to-be-privatized.html) The contract involved the amalgamation of the portering services with domestics and catering to create a new department: Facilities. At the same time the refuse section of the old Portering Department, the hospital's dustmen, was split off and made into a new sub department called "the waste team" or "environmental porters". At the time I had been serving in Theatres since 1999. My job involved transporting patients to and from surgery, the movement of patients within the theatres and basic logistics relating to equipment, drugs, specimens, rubbish and anything else. The Theatres Department administration then proposed to employ their porters independently. Its proposal was approved and it was granted a budget. Recruitment was simplicity itself; the old departmental staff who had been deployed in Theatres at the time of transition were simply acquired automatically under the Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment regulations. I agreed and signed the new contract. This was a big mistake. Had I declined I would have simply been redeployed within the rest of the new hospital portering Facilities services. On the surface it seemed like a good deal. Becoming a theatre porter employed directly by the Theatres Department meant a pay-rise of an extra one thousand two hundred pounds per year; and we would be answerable only to the Theatres management and no longer have to deal with the remote controllers in the Facilities offices. However, there was a catch, we would no longer be called porters; our new job title was "ODO- Operating Department Orderly".
I had no idea how much this would affect me until the first time I heard a voice on the intercom saying: "Are there any ODO's there please?" Up until then it had always been: "Are there any porters there please?" I remember it perfectly to this day. My jaw dropped. I felt like Winston Smith in 1984 when he first heard somebody announce that Oceania was at war with Eastasia. I asked the head theatre porter (formerly the section senior porter) if I could carry on calling myself a theatre porter. He said no; absolutely not. On a nuts and bolts level he was right; I had signed the contract, something I now bitterly regretted. However I got a sticky label and wrote the word porter on it and stuck it over my name badge where it said "Ben Emlyn-Jones- ODO." A few days later I was called into the office of the Theatres manager, a thin old woman called Julie. Sitting beside her was the head of Human Resources (another Orwellian word). I assumed this was just an informal discussion and at no point was I cautioned and asked if I wanted trade union representation. Julie explained to me that what I was doing was defacing hospital property and breaching security policy. She asked me to remove the sticker and I refused. The HR manager then asked me why I didn't like being called an ODO. I said that I intensely dislike this new job title. It's a shallow, gimmicky, artificial, politically correct, piece of Orwellian Newspeak, It's nothing more than stupid corporate jargon. It's not a word at all, just a piddling little soulless, plastic euphemism. I think it sounds mindless and highly unprofessional. "ODO" is also sometimes pronounced "Oh-doe" and that sounds rather like "odour"... or perhaps, very aptly, "order"; as in the new world one. "Porter" is actually a very ancient and noble word; it goes back to the Latin portare which means "to carry". I became very emotional as I spoke. "I've shed sweat, blood and tears for over seventeen years for that little word: porter!" I told him. "I will never give it up!" He replied: "The theatre porters at the RI (Radcliffe Infirmary) are called ODO's; they've always been called ODO's and none of them seem to mind." Really? The RI is Oxford's oldest hospital; it was opened over two hundred and eighty years ago. Were the theatre porters honestly called ODO's from day one? They asked me once again to remove the sticker and I refused again. Then they allowed me to return to work. However a couple of days later I received a letter at my home address warning me that the next time I turned up for duty, if I did not have an intact name badge and was willing to answer to the job title of "ODO" then I would be suspended and face full disciplinary action. I called my shop steward, a man called Eamon. He was furious that I'd even received the letter and considered it highly wrongful for them to have sent it to me. He chastised me that I shouldn't have cooperated with the panel: "There's no such thing as an 'informal discussion' in this place!" he said. "You should have walked out and only agreed to come back with me at your side!" He told me I had no choice but to remove the sticker, for now. However he immediately made an appointment for us to get together and construct an official grievance. He did this against the advice of most of the other conveners in the union; for this I am eternally grateful to him. The local UNISON branch was quite alarmed by the stand I'd made; some of them questioned my mental health. For them it was a total non-issue. "Who cares what you're called?" one of them said. "You've just bagged yourself an extra twelve hundred a year. What the hell is wrong with you!?" It's hard to explain to somebody who is apathetic towards their occupation and just sees it as forty hours a week out from their lives in order to generate an income. The saddest part of the whole situation was the response from my fellow porters. The first day of work after the news broke I walked into the lodge and MEP&DBP's were definitely withdrawn and subdued in the way they greeted me. Their usual warmth and camaraderie was absent and the embarrassed silence continued all day. With the exception of Eamon, not one of those men stood by me. That's eighteen porters, the entire section, that rejected me. On the contrary they shunned me. I heard how behind my back they were calling me a "fucking idiot!" and other epithets. The deputy senior was the worst. One of his jobs was to keep a record of annual leave. This he did by writing the porters' names in a big diary. At one point I booked two bank holiday lieu days with him over the phone; and on the first day I went on leave he phoned me up and asked why I wasn't at work. I told him that I had booked the lieu days with him a week earlier and he replied: "No you didn't." He deliberately hadn't written my name down in the book. What could I do? I had made the booking over the phone. This was something we all did and considered it perfectly valid because we trusted each other. The deputy senior had tricked me by pretending to book my leave. I was marked down as absent. There was no doubt my time in Theatres was limited. I sent the following letter to the Theatres manager:
                                                                                                 Ben Emlyn-Jones
                                                                                                         Porter
3/1/06                                                                            Operating Theatres JRII
                                                                                  John Radcliffe Hospital

Dear Julie,

Hope you had a good Christmas and New Year.

Re: Your letter dated 30/12/05 and the question: “Have you removed the sticky label from your name badge?”

Yes, I have. I think I’ve made my point, and there is no valour in cutting off my nose to spite my face. Besides, it’s only fair that I return my badge to Security in the same state that it was issued to me.

I will be leaving the Theatres Department soon. I wish to continue my portering career in another department, or another hospital, where I am free to express my porterhood. If this is not possible then I will end my portering career in the same way I’ve always tried to live it: with dignity.

If I am given a job in another department then I will need to arrange a transfer and give appropriate notice. This I would like to discuss with you, Chris and my UNISON representative at the appropriate time.

With the exception of the last two months, I will look back at my seven years in your department very fondly.

Porters Forever!

Ben Emlyn-Jones

There is no valour in being a false martyr. As I said in the letter, I had made my point. I even used the word porter in my address; I also did in my following letter of resignation. I feared that Julie might actually be so petty as to send it back to me and order me to change it to "Operating Department Orderly" before accepting it, but luckily, to her credit, she wasn't. As good providence would have it, I was swiftly accepted back into the new Facilities department where I served for the next seven years until my final discharge, see background links below. They were delighted to have me actually. Why did Theatres management go to town so zealously on this issue? Not to mention the spiteful ostracization by my immediate peers. Or to put it another way, is the dreaded P-word really so awful that it had to be eliminated as such a high priority? A portering friend of mine asked me afterwards: "Why did you make such a fuss about a job title, Ben?" My reply was: "But they made just as much fuss as I did. Have you asked them that question?" No false modesty here, I was their most valuable member of portering staff; the most dedicated, the most expert and the most experienced. Yet they threw me away without any hesitation for the sake of a three-letter acronym. What really annoyed and baffled me is that some of the other theatre porters/ODO's were very bad at their jobs and they were left in peace. One man in particular springs to mind. He was late for work almost every day and used to sneak off early whenever he could. He was off sick at least one day a week. When he was present he spent as much time as he could get away with skiving. He could usually be found smoking at the entrance to the service tunnels with the other time-wasters, but nobody caught him out. He was never sacked and was rarely even reprimanded. He enjoyed eight cushy years in portering before leaving voluntarily to become a healthcare assistant in some nursing home. They got rid of me, but were quite content to keep him! I once asked my friend, who is still a theatre porter in the West Wing, how the staff feel about being called ODO's and apparently they say things like: "We've always been called ODO's, haven't we?" What's really disturbing is that even porters who were serving before 2005 say this... Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. The words we use for things are vitally important because language is such a precious and central part of the human experience; it is the framework of cognition. Take away the human power of speech and you remove our power of thought; we will then become no more intelligent than a limpet. This is why human language is under attack. The architects of the New World Order want to degrade it and transform it into a degenerate instruction code; as George Orwell warned us: "Newspeak was designed to eliminate all meaning from language, leaving only blandness." Before he died in 1950 Orwell left us a chilling warning: "Allowing for the book, after all, being a parody, something like 1984 could actually happen. This is the direction the world is going in at the present time... If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever. The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: don't let it happen. It depends on you." I know, George. And I won't. I promise you, I won't.
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/was-orwell-mediocre.html.

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