Friday, 22 June 2012

'Smoking Rules – OK?' by Garrick Batten

Are you a smoker? Since when? Well that probably explains it. You’ve got lung cancer Mister Fitzgerald, and I have to tell you it doesn’t look good. I’m very, very sorry to have to say that, but it’s better that you know now so that we can help you make things as easy as we can from now on.”

This happens to other people – even someone that you know. Not me. Lots of people smoke. Granddad smoked a pipe and cigarettes and he lived to 89 without a day’s illness, if you don’t count gout. And yes, I’d smoked since I was seventeen. Well I’d had one or two in the bushes behind the bike-shed at school before that. But it really started when I went to work on a school holiday job at the oil installation.

Four of us schoolboys got a job helping repaint 44 gallon fuel drums in company livery. Petrol and diesel were shipped in drums to the Islands in those days and the empties came back in various rusted colours.

You had to check in all matches and lighters at the gate and the only ignition was from wall-mounted filaments in the lunchroom. So that was the only place on site that you could have a smoke. Hard won Union strength to protect workers’ rights meant that the drum painting crew was split in two, with each taking half an hour every hour to go to the lunchroom for a smoke and to play cards. If you didn’t smoke, you couldn’t go. So I started smoking. And became a good Five Hundred player too.

I kept smoking. Now I was dying.

Union workplace rules were supposed to be good for workers. Not kill them

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