Sunday, 21 September 2008

A contractual dilemma

Pay me peanuts

The rage in me has barely been contained as I have tried to comfort myself that all will be well and things will turn out right.

Leaving the assumed security of contract that was in many ways grudgingly extended by fits and starts that it lasted two years, where the longest extension was 3 months; and that happened twice in that whole period, it looked like a relief.

Each time the contract was being extended I was subtly reminded that I was expensive and needed to be replaced with cheaper permanent staff, when in fact the people (other contractors) I was helping in my team who had considerably lesser responsibilities and clout than I had were paid on a whole a lot more than I was – it is debatable whether they took home as much money, but that is beside the point.

I had been caught in an Apes Obey [1] net of my own making – I was willingly working hard with less incentive than most races – as Lord Lugard [2] had so aptly observed some 86 years ago about people of my race.

Brutalised by opportunists

I was at a disadvantage where I could not promote myself any longer as a Solution’s Architect if I was charging 2nd-line Support rates, there would be some wondering if I was genuine or a fraud and others thinking they had a bargain whilst pitying the fool I was – amends had to be made.

Generally, my demands have been modest and I have been most content trying not to allow the issue of remuneration to becloud the purpose for which I have contracted out my services. I had been seriously brutalised by opportunists in Nigeria years before where I was offering unique, expensive and rare desktop publishing training and when I gave a quote for my services I was called greedy to my face.

Not impressed

Normally, the “typical” young, up-and-coming Nigerian would listen to that and then negotiate the terms to a paltry fee because the man has a big car, he holds a doctorate, he is the director of projects in some grand firm, his sister was an executive in the diplomatic services, her husband was an ambassador and they lived in some swanky neighbourhood able to afford luxuries like kids in the best universities abroad.

To be candid, I have never been impressed enough with that sort of thing to allow myself to be insulted by anyone when in the act of providing services I am professionally able to offer with market-recognised expertise.

I do not think the conversation lasted another five minutes – I simply told them, they knew full well that they could not get that service and attention for less than three times I had charged, they were trying to take advantage of me and finally nobody calls me greedy and then has the opportunity to use my services – they tried to retract and apologise but I was out of the door and never looked back.

The scars endure

I now believe I was scarred by that affair and not long after that, as a partner in another firm where my partner was twice my age, had 70% of the concern (I had 30%) and was a director of the United Bank of Africa – again, this was because people recognized my desktop publishing expertise but felt they could both patronize and belittle me – money was thrown at me derisively across the table on matters that concerned the firm rather than my personal situation.

People just have the tendency to think their positions confer on them the right to be downright obnoxious and we the “underlings” are to accept such treatment as masochists, laid out on the altars of humiliating abuse, begging for more – No! I did not receive an upbringing or education to endure that kind of treatment from anyone.

That business relationship did not last much longer even though I had on the auspices of the firm visited the United Kingdom to purchase equipment for our business – You just do not give a 24 year old 30% of a firm and think it is the end of his ambition and life, he would throw it away and start over again – that is what I did.

Pay me enough to shout expletives at me

Many years on, I found myself working on a trading floor where men were treated like tin-gods, handled by everyone with undue deference because they made money and used to stupid technical people quaking at the sound of their voices, yielding to commands barely better than “lick my boots”.

Before I knew it, this man had a serious problem I could solve quickly but in relaying his problem suddenly spewed out a train of expletives longer than an old West wagon train. I gave him one look and told him, I was there to solve his problem if he took the time to calm down but I did not get paid enough to take expletives in my job.

He should contact me later when he was ready to have the problem solved – he was shocked at my reaction but he called round later, apologized and had his problem solved.

There is no reason why anyone at work should not expect to be treated with the utmost respect and courtesy regardless of your position at work.

The contract debacle

As I submitted my statutory one-month’s notice to end my last contract I was waiting on the affirmation of the contract terms that had been agreed in conversation just about a week before.

There was some movement a week after when I received an email first saying the contract was being arranged on short-notice but I had to provide all sorts of pertinent information necessary to draw up the contract.

I filled in the form, responding immediately asking other questions and got no response for about a week after other phone calls that ended up on answering services.

A few other phone calls to the people I was going to be working with and they were also frustrated with a lack of response, when I finally got to speak to one of the managers of the project I categorically stated that I would refuse to work for a company that does not treat me with courtesy – in this case, the courtesy of acknowledging my emails or responding to my phone calls.

Assurances, assurances and more assurances

I received assurances that all will be well but really nothing happened that I found myself writing one of those emails that I hate to read again after clicking on the Send button it stated I would not resume for work on September the first if I did not have a contract for my assignment – meanwhile I was winding down my activities at the firm where I had resigned.

More assurances where given with a deluge of emails and a phone call from the coordinator of contracts who was mad to call me under great duress where we discussed the agencies to handle my payroll and other issue, still a week before the commencement of the assignment – I relented and started eventually started the new assignment without a contract.

I was able to request all the access I required but no legal document showing the terms and conditions agreed for the assignment, calls were made, emails were sent from 3 other people and still no movement.

Enough!

Last Monday on the 11th day of work, I sent out an email to all concerned stating if the situation had not become an embarrassment for the firm, it was already unacceptable for me – something had to be done to ameliorate the situation.

Assurances, no matter how gentlemanly do not constitute a legally binding and enforceable contract.

I got no response and upped the ante by suggesting that I would only return to attend the office when I had a contract in my mailbox within the week or I will be back on the market this week – I got emails that this would be done the next working day and arranged with the utmost urgency – and an apology from the coordinator, I deliberately decided not to acknowledge or accept the apology until things had demonstrably changed.

Still a mess – an opportunist agency

It was not the case, the payroll agency were only informed of the contract on Thursday afternoon and had scant information about my contract and I was being tackled by assistant who were clueless about what needed to be done, when I was passed on to those who appeared to know, they did not have the pertinent information to hand.

I furnished them with all the information and had a contract delivered by email on Friday morning, there was whole set of clauses in the contract where the payroll agency tried to insert themselves into the negotiations and exact a no-compete clause along with the ability to exact punitive damages without notification or recourse to judicial review or due process.

It was a menacing clause to serve as a deterrent because I believe there is no way that could be argued before a judge, but if it was signed off in a contract, certain inalienable rights would have been signed away.

This is dishonest in my book

I am no lawyer but even if that was a boilerplate contract that everyone else had not bothered to read and understand, I was having none of it. The payroll agency was not competent to assume the position they desired, they were selected on my advice because I had done business with them three years before and definitely not for their competence, I just thought archival material they might have about me would expedite issues.

The negotiations and arrangements for the contract had been completely long before the agency was involved, so really I did not think the agency could demand in their clause that were egregious as best and really patently dishonest to say the least.

I asked for a waiver, first got a waiver on a moot sub-clause and then when they noticed a two sub-clauses had been given the same number, that was edited – showing they finally read their contract, I was told none of my views were valid and the clauses were not open for discussion.

This is really a big mess

It meant I had the prerogative not to sign the contract and seek the services of another competent agency, however, I needed the coordinator to discuss some terms that were missing from the contract and possibly to arrange an alternative course – as usual, he was nowhere to be found and I have still not been contacted by the man since.

Meanwhile, because this whole issue had been handled with levity, even though I started working on the 1st of September, the contract could only be signed from the 19th of September, the hours I have worked have to be squeezed into the last 7 working days of the month of September.

Is it unlikely that there would be a need to exact the clauses in dispute, but once the contract is signed those dormant clauses can have effect and be executed on the force of the contract – it has become a case of caveat emptor.

At crossroads

My dilemma is whether to completely pull out of the contract and just put myself back on the market or grit my teeth and follow through on this botched matter considering the assignment does offer some interesting opportunities.

The problem is not so much the assignment but the administrative handling of my contract, never have I had to deal with such rank incompetence and unprofessional attitude in the handling of my affairs – I have the good mind of lodging a formal complaint to the superiors of that coordinator and ensuring that I exact my pound of flesh and not forgetting the blood too.

I have never been so pissed off and treated with as much discourtesy as this – I need to go for a walk and watch the iShares Cup [3] taking place just on the water behind my apartment block.

Sources

[1] Introducing the Apes Obey! Series [akin.blog-city.com]

[2] Frederick Lugard: Biography and Much More from Answers.com

[3] iShares Cup 2008

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