About three months ago, with the doors of my restaurant shuttered by government edict and, accordingly, unable to pay rent, I was given three days to get out by the landlord. It was a grim time. It was hard to swallow that an iconic business with a thirty-six year track record of making money had suddenly, unexpectedly and inexplicably, moved into the ranks of failed business.
Seventeen people were instantly unemployed. I moved to my mountain shack to lick my wounds. I sold off what I had to in order to pay off the debts that the business had been left with. What to do? I assessed the situation and looked at new businesses, but what? It became clear that I had got off lightly – that to be forced out of my lease should be seen as a blessing, not a disaster.
An already struggling economy had been destroyed by the government’s panicked response to the virus. I had been paying a high rent. Could I have continued to pay it in the new economy? How many people would still have the disposable income and the confidence in its continuity to eat out regularly? And who were also not scared almost to death of catching the virus by dining out. Have you ever noticed how the value that people place on their life is inversely proportional to its real worth?
So, I began to relax, a bit. Then, gradually, I relaxed a lot. I found myself sleeping – every night! I would go to bed, turn off the bedside lamp and immediately fall asleep for seven or eight hours. I had not done that for over forty years. I had got used to struggling for five hours sleep. Sometimes I got less; occasionally I got none. I had always just shrugged it off as insomnia. A part of the aging process.
It’s not true; I now realize that I did not sleep for all those decades because of worry. Every day I was tense. Would this be the day that some regulatory body would swoop down on my business and destroy it? The Health Department, the Liquor Licence Authority, the Wages Police (whatever their real name is) or some other hideous government entity.
I once had an officious bitch with a blonde crewcut and a clipboard walk down the stairs to my restaurant. I was having breakfast, but spotted her as a government stooge immediately. One of the staff brought her over to soil my space with her unpleasantness. I led her away and sat her down at a distance from my breakfast.
“We have received a report that you have been discriminatory in your hiring practices.” That was just the intro. How does one defend against such a charge? Obviously one cannot. Such a charge can be levied, held to be true with horrendous media coverage, at least, based on nothing whatsoever.
In this instance, the gods were smiling down on me. I listened and managed to supress a look of joyous expectation.
When she had finished her tirade and, without mercy, I let her talk herself out, I gravely explained how appalled I was by the charge and that I would bring the two people responsible for hiring and training over to explain themselves. And I did, because they happened to be in the restaurant, which is why I was supressing laughter.
Sunny (a very dark-skinned Indian) and Anna (Chinese) were sitting in another part of the restaurant working on the roster. I sat them down opposite the public servant Nazi and gravely explained that they were being charged with racially prejudiced hiring. As I did so, I watched the bully’s grim and bitter face dissolve and her mouth literally drop open.
I went back to my table where I could view and enjoy the show. My breakfast, though now cold, tasted delicious. It only took about two minutes and the Nazi scurried off up the stairs clutching her clipboard and looking even whiter than when she came down. It is unusual for such incidents to end so delightfully.
Another time I was charged with unfair dismissal. The cook rang me to tell me that the waitress hadn’t turned up. I rang her number and no one responded. After trying for a couple of days, I gave up, hired someone else and moved on. Then came the summons to explain myself. She had filed a report that I had dismissed her without cause or notice. Again – how could I prove myself innocent? I could not and that incident cost me a lot of indignation, time and money. Her business model was more profitable than mine.
The wages are so complicated that it is impossible to know for certain that you are paying people correctly. And to not do so is a criminal offence – i.e. to be found guilty of underpayment (stealing!) can result in imprisonment.
Why did the business fraternity put up with it? We were all victims of the ‘someone else’ mentality.
they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
I will not hire another person in this country until Award Wages are cancelled in their entirety. I will not begin another business that cannot be run with my family alone. I also won’t begin another business that comes under the purview of the Health Department.
In fact, it will take a lot to get me to go back into any business in Australia. This is one entrepreneur who has made the decision that sleeping without the constant fear attendant to government tyranny has much merit.
It’s annoying, because I loved my businesses, all of them. Whatever I have done in my life, I have done with a passion. But, and it is a big but, I am not prepared to go without sleep anymore in order to be an abused milche cow for the government.
I deeply suspect that many others are coming to a similar conclusion. Forcing entrepreneurs to close their businesses, and to sit on their hands for months on end, was to force them to re-examine their situation.
That was a major blunder.
I suspect that I am not the only ex-business person who is sleeping a whole lot better these days.