We are aces at absenteeism
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away - a land of deserts and camels and palm trees, sheikhs and belly dancers - a young African got himself a job.
The young African was terribly excited to have his new job. It paid him double his previous salary but he paid no tax; he got free accommodation and a second-hand Toyota Celica with headlights that would flip up at the flick of a switch.
On his first day at work the young African tried hard to impress. He did as he was told and was eager to be liked by his employers and his colleagues, all of whom came from many different lands and who spoke strange, unknown languages.
That first day the young African worked tirelessly with barely a break. He worked well into the night, absorbing the sights, sounds and knowledge of many strange, foreign cultures and alien business cultures.
And then, the next day, the young African woke up so terribly sick that he couldn't go to work, to start repaying the kind foreigners who had flown him all the way from Africa at such great expense.
He really was very sick. The next day he was even sicker.
Groaning disconsolately in his sick bed, he agonised about what the people at work were thinking of him: how they were surely dismissing him as a work-shy jungle bunny, a malingerer who would never be of any use.
That young African (as you might have guessed) was me. I had been offered a job in Dubai and was very excited to tackle a new, completely different chapter in my life.
To the very best of my knowledge, I was the first South African to get residence in Dubai on a South African passport.
This was in the early 1990s, before the first democratic election. When I tried to register as a resident, the immigration officials told me, after they had asked which country I came, from: "No, no. You wrong colour. You no from Africa."
In those early days in felix Arabia I thought of myself as something of a pioneer. And I was bitterly disappointed to be impugning the reputation of my tribe as I took four of my first five days' employment as sick leave. But I really was that ill.
What was wrong with me at the time I no longer recall but I know for a fact that, in the intervening two decades, I have never thrown a sicky that lasted for more than two days. Touch wood.
I am related to a serial entrepreneur who once told me: "The best cure for any illness is self-employment."
The self-employed will happily drag themselves out of intensive care so they can carry to the workplace bubonic plague or worse, not only because, without their labour and input their enterprises will dwindle and die but, one imagines, because they hope to infect and get rid of a few of the more work-shy employees they wish they'd never hired in the first place.
My experience of being flown halfway across the world only to not pitch for work on days two to five of my new assignation fills me with empathy, sympathy and even understanding for the fact that people do get sick now and again.
And, of course, we have that pandemic which means that absenteeism is becoming a mounting, indeed alarming, business cost.
But, according to reports in the last week or so, South Africans are becoming adept, even adroit, at absenteeism. So much so that, according to reports, our sick leave rates have shot up by 400% in four years. Unions now make days' sick leave a key wage demand.
Duvet days are one thing when you're a big, fat corporate that can carry on making widgets without the services of Sophie, PA to the deputy accounts-receivables manager but they're no end of trouble when you're running a struggling franchise in Kuruman or Klerksdorp with 10 staff and the head burger-tosser routinely takes two days' sick leave every month because that is what his union has negotiated for him.
I have no doubt that the alleged 400% increase in absenteeism is a complete thumbsuck on the part of the supposed researchers whose employers garnered a great deal of publicity through the process.
But clearly we are rapidly developing a culture of sick leave as an entitlement.
And that is why we need the detested labour brokers; because businesses need to keep running while their employees are at home watching daytime TV.