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Around The Sun: My Mother Says I Should Continue To Work Here

Steve Harrison tells of staff problems in Phnom Penh.

Four of our bar staff were were the salt of the earth. The rest were a miserable lot. Most of the time they would sleep, eat out, go off with their boyfriends... anything but work. However on payday once a month, they were always on time. Some I did not recognise turned up. This reflected on our poor management.

One of our staff, lets call her N, was an obstinate and lazy girl. Customers would wave, tap the tables, hold up empty glasses, and N was always looking anywhere other than where service was required. I guess you could say I singled her out for re-education.

I always made a point of calling her by name to wait upon me or to do obvious chores I saw requiring service around the bar area. She gradually grew to resent me deeply. She challenged me on several occasions as to why I was always picking on her. The simple truth was as I told her, she was employed to work and because I was paying her wages, that’s exactly what I expected her to do.

We had bar staff and waitresses who all received a wage each month, also there where hostesses, girls paid a small amount to just be company to drinking guys. Finally there were freelance girls, ladies who enjoyed the bar scene and wanted to pick up guys. After a while it became hard to distinguish who was employed to do what job and at what time, so we decided our staff should wear a smart uniform.

They looked very smart and businesslike in these uniforms, all of them except N. She was a frumpy girl, somewhat plump. No matter what she wore she didn't look good. She refused to wear the uniform. I told her that everyone who wanted to work in the Temple bar had to wear it. I had no objection to her having the skirt altered so that it was more flattering to her figure.

She didn’t like my instruction one little bit. When I wasn't in the bar she got out of uniform to wear baggy jeans.

On Thursdays we had a pool competition in the bar. The prize for the winner was US$9, more than a week's wage for most of our staff. You can imagine that most of them wanted to have a go. The competition encouraged a lot of drinking, and also a lot of jealousy.

One Thursday there was a great commotion. I turned around to see one of my waitresses sprawled across the pool table clutching one of the freelance girls by the hair. A crowd surrounded them, calling out and applauding with great excitement. N was one of the girls involved in the fight. She was scratching, clawing and screaming obscenities.

Our security guards managed to separate them. I escorted both girls outside and gave them a good talking to. "Hey if you want to fight do it outside, never in the bar.''

Suddenly N turned her venom on me. In perfect English she called me filthy names. She told me she hated the job, hated the uniform, and hated me. She demanded her wage and said she would never work for me again.

“Whew what a relief, saves me firing you” I said.

Then she tried to take a swing at me but was restrained by the security guy. She stomped into the changing rooms and tore off the uniform. I gave her what pay was owing and off she went into the night, still screaming abuse.

You can imagine my surprise when next evening she was back waitressing in uniform and acting as though nothing happened.

"N didn’t you resign and say you never wanted to work for me anymore?'' I asked.

“Yes” she agreed “but my mother said I should continue working, because I have a good job.''

I was astounded. Speechless. I walked away, chuckling, and allowed N to continue working.

As you might already have guessed N was soon back in my sights. She continued to be her usual lazy, sleepy, good for nothing self. One evening I asked her to clear a table. Boy did I get an earfull. Again she spat venom, hurled abuse and carried on like a mad banshee. The girl was a gun powder keg and I had somehow lit the fuse. She slammed beer glasses around and threw bottles.

"N,'' I ordered, hand in your uniform, collect your wages, and go. You're fired.''

“You can’t fire me,” she said.

But I could, I called the security guy. I gave her the money she was due and she was escorted out of the bar.

At last she was gone!

Two days later I was drinking with some very good friends when N walked in. She asked if she could talk to me in private, and I agreed.

"My mother says you’re a very good man,'' she said "and that I should apologise to you because I have been bad to you and called you bad names.”

I agreed that this was so.

"So I am sorry, Please accept my apology.''

I accepted her apology.

“Now can I go back to work,''

I was flabbergasted, I said no.

Again she expressed her apology. “I am dreadfully sorry, My mother says I should carry on working for you.''

I pointed out that her mother was not a shareholder in our bar.

She continued to apologise, and I continued to insist that I would not emply her as a waitress.

Once again she exploded.

“I apologise but you will not give me back my job. My mother says I have to work here...''

Another little matter for Security to sort out.

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