M was hired on an hourly salary plus commission, and anything above 40 hours per week was at time-and-a-half. We knew the commission wouldn’t come into play until he’d been working for awhile, so we didn’t budget for it. But we also knew that the kind of work he does rarely gets finished in a 40-hour week on either side of the world so, while we calculated that we would scrape by on the base salary, we felt fairly confident that we would likely have a bit of a cushion from overtime as well.
His first few weeks didn’t really go that way, but I didn’t worry too much, because it always takes a little while for any new job to settle out into a normal routine. I decided to ignore my worry-instincts, and force myself to relax about it and just enjoy the fact that he was getting home around 3.30 in the afternoon. But the worry was there at the back of my mind, and it didn’t help that, when I mentioned his hours to my mother, she — ever the (self-confessed) Pollyanna — gurgled, “Oooooh, isn’t that wonderful!” and I had to explain out loud what was always gnawing away in pit of my stomach — that while finishing that early might be wonderful for a salaried employee, it’s nothing but bad news to someone who is paid hourly.
After a few weeks, his schedule did begin to stabalise and the overtime came, just as we’d thought it would. His paycheques suddenly looked quite comfortable, and I began to relax. This was going to be fine. We were going to be able to afford… well, not a lavish lifestyle, but at least the kind of stable, sustainable life that we’d moved half-a-world away in order to achieve.
And then, just as quickly, he was moved to a different department — one where, as a rule, they work regular hours and don’t do overtime. When the whistle blows at the end of the day, they down tools and go home. He was starting at 6 or 7am and walking back through the door at 3pm, but he was on base pay again. I looked at the paystubs in dismay — life on this kind of money would be tight indeed… worryingly tight. M didn’t like the work anyway — the same routine thing every day, not challenging at all — and asked to be transferred back to what he was doing before. It took a lot of asking (“We’ve got to put you where the work is, you see…”), but at the end of last week, he was put back into his previous department. He anticipated more interesting work, and I anticipate more comfortable paycheques.
He’s got the interesting work, but the hours just aren’t there. Thursday, Friday, and yesterday, he got home around 2.30pm. Today, he walked through the door at 1.30. He is “concerned” — this should be their busy season, and he is coming home before the girls have finished lunch. If he — someone who never much worries himself about money or the future — is concerned, then I am quite worried indeed. After all that’s been going on — allergies, pain, medical bills, taxes, mortgage-brickwalls, the house up for sale, the hurdles of building credit — is it possible that his work could start to dry up too?