What could I earn per hour?

Two-minute story

What could I earn per hour?

There were no set rates of payment, not for informal arrangements, arrangements between an established farmer and a young man who was trying to get into farming, who needed additional income while working to establish his own pig-breeding enterprise.

I had worked for Ken before, when I was a student, keen for some holiday work. He was hard, on himself as well as the men who worked for him, and he was successful and fair. With a friend I had worked for an established amount, on piece-work, paid for what we did, loading bales of hay and straw and carting them from Ken’s fields to his barns. So much per one hundred bales.

Now I was alone, negotiating my personal worth: what would Ken be willing to pay, to have my labour to use, in whatever way suited him? One day it could be tractor work, cultivating a field perhaps; another day I could be mending machinery or building a wall somewhere. Whatever I did I would be paid the same rate per hour, no matter how much or how little I achieved.

We sat in his farm office amongst the dusty paper-work that cluttered his desk. He reckoned that I was worth an amount; I think it was £2 per hour. I thought I was worth £2.50. We considered matters for a moment. Ken was not one to drag out conversation or discussion for longer than was necessary and if I was going to shift him towards my figure I would have to think of something pretty quickly. Then it dawned on me that it would be no good simply challenging Ken’s figure head-on; there had to be a way around his determination.

“I would be OK working at your rate for six weeks.”

Ken looked up, but said nothing. He was listening.

“Then, if you wanted me to continue, it would be at my rate.”

Ken nodded. It was not a discussion to which we returned but after two weeks there was no need for further discussion for Ken had already started to pay me my rate.

What is the most important thing you learn about Ken?

Was this a fair way to decide how much the writer should be paid?

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