09 November 2007

Becoming Bill Gates by boxing brains?

Early start: The alarm clock rings at 5.04am, far before the sun rises. Isabel and I get up, more or less voluntarily, switch the light on and walk into the kitchen. Markus and Oli are already sitting on the table, having breakfast. We take our Muesli flakes, some milk and join in.
Isabel made some sandwiches for lunch yesterday, as well as some rice with corn & beans. All good. So it’s my job to wash the dishes and fill up our waterbottles. Everything goes into our backpacks, and off we take.
It’s not really dark as we ride along the highway, on our rented pushbikes. Approximately 5km until we reach Fletcher’s, our new employer. The sun is just about to rise as we arrive at this enourmous factory.

“Which number, boy?” The receptionist grins gently. “79. Thanks.” He hands me my clothes, a blue shirt and some blue trousers. I grab a pair of earplugs and a hairnet and walk towards the lockers, get changed there and look pretty similar to any of the other 900 workers, each of them earning good loads of money here.

After entering the slaughterfloor, we gotta wash our hands as well as those green gumboots, which were waiting in the locker for me. Here is where we get some gloves and a plastic apron, put the earplugs in and enter the abattoir.

Let’s get started. Three sorts of jobs are waiting for us: Remove the fat out of those sheep corpses, disjoint the bowels or cut off their heads. We do it in a rotating system, so everyone does every job for half an hour, to avoid getting too bored.

All right, so we switch our brains off and start working. Same motion, time after time, one sheep every five seconds, 4000 sheep per shift, 8000 sheep per day, 40000 per week. Incredible figures!

After 3,5 hours we have our first teabreak, get out of the abbatoir, sanitize all clothes, our boots and hands, open our lockers, grab some food, put the backpack back into the locker, have a quick wee and rush back to the slaughterfloor. All within 20 paid minutes. Same jobs again. Another two hours, until lunch. Half an hour break. Unpaid. Same procedure as earlier on, just 10 minutes more time for eating. Back to work.

By the time the machines stop going, it is ten to three. 8,5 hours have passed by, 8 hours are paid. 136$. Not too bad. But not enough.
Markus, Oli, Isabel and I sit outside on a bench, having a sandwich and a drink, enjoying the sunshine. It is Friday afternoon, most of the guys passing by are looking forward to their weekend. We’re looking forward to work some overtime.

10 minutes later, we’re back in the slaughterfloor, dressed up as we have to be. The afternoon shift has started, and we’re waiting for some supervisor to tell us what to do.
Finally, one of those guys with the blue helmets comes towards us and asks, if we have ever packed brains. No, I haven’t. Markus and Oli have spooned out some yesterday...
All right, so he’s gotta show me. The guy, who cuts off the heads now, puts them on a conveyor belt. They are taken straight into a machine, which is supposed to cut them right in the middle. Well, that’s the best case – otherwise Oli and Markus have to improvise, as they try to get as much brain out of those heads as possible. Some of these sheep must have been clinically dead, before they were killed, we’re wondering, as we discover some grubs moving through those heads. Weird.

Markus and Oli chuck the brains on a tray. As soon as there are approx. 20 of them, I replace the tray by an empty one, put the full one into a freezer and leave it in there for a minute or so. Now, that they’re a little bit colder, I pack the brains into plastic bags, one per bag, and those bags into small boxes, 6 bags per box. These little boxes are squeezed into a bigger carton, 40 at a time. That’s 240 brains per carton. And I believe, that there must be enough customers, to buy hundreds and thousands of these brains, even though they seem to be expensive.

Because the only reason, why we’re working overtime, is the money. After 8 hours, you get paid 1,5 times the money you usually earn, after 10 hours even double the amount of it! Incredible! So we’re standing in that little chamber, talking, having fun, working in a pretty relaxed way, and earn almost 35$ per hour!!! Can you believe that? And there must still be some sense for the company to pay us overtime!

It was dark, when Isabel and I finally left the premises. 14,5 hours of work were done, and we earned 320$ today. Markus and Oli decided to stay on for another 2,5 hours, they finished by 11.30.pm. And we all got more money than we had earned with picking oranges in a whole week! Fascinating.

Back home we just stripped off our clothes and went to bed straight away – tomorrow we will sleep in and have a wonderful Saturday off. Awesome!

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