It was right when he said, ‘Tom you b*stard! That’s not how you do it!’ that I realised I had made a mistake in taking this job! The second day on the job and I was already receiving abuse from the boss!
In truth, alarm bells had rung on the first day. My friend and I had accepted a job offer from two guys on Gumtree who needed workers to help with asphalting roads. At the time, we had just moved to Christchurch in New Zealand, a city which was being rebuilt after a devastating series of earthquakes in 2011, left hundreds dead and left much of the infrastructure of the city in tatters.
This was in early 2014, so even after three years, the city was still not back on its feet. When I saw the advert, I thought it referred to working for an established company fixing roads. I didn’t realise I would be working for two guys from England fixing driveways.
As my Dad is a builder, I know a thing or two about construction. I’ve helped him out on a few projects, and doing driveways was one of them. I know the process that’s involved in this line of work.
The first day I worked with them was a bit of a shock. I remember seeing no digger to dig up the driveway and lay down the base on which the driveway would be built. I justified this by thinking they had already done it and they were finishing up. Then one of them came back with a big van loaded with bitumen.
The driveway we were working on was that of a commercial building. It was a big car park, which could fit about ten cars. These guys got their van, poured tar over the driveway and then dropped the bitumen down on top of it. We then spent the next few hours raking the bitumen to ‘level it out’ and that was the job done.
I remember thinking this can’t be right when we packed up. I even asked one of them if we were done and they said we were, I couldn’t believe it. This was the most basic job you could imagine.
The next few days confirmed my fears, I was working for a pair of cowboys. The job they were doing was so basic and rudimentary it amounted to a con. We weren’t laying a new driveway. What we were doing was scraping the driveway back a little bit, levelling it off, pouring tar on it and then placing bitumen on top. That was it. It was a con job.
I have no idea what these guys were charging, but whatever the price, it was too much. I’m not sure how I lasted two weeks working for these guys. I think getting paid $150 a day was a large part and the fact I’d have to look for another job if I quit. But my conscience kicked in eventually and the way we were treated didn’t help either.
They would constantly shout at us, swear non-stop and when something went wrong, it was like the world had ended. I remember a small appendage falling off a new piece of machinery they’d bought. This item didn’t affect how the machinery worked but when they saw it was missing, they went mad and demanded we find it. The gist of it was, ‘well it was there before and one of you must know where it is, so bloody find it!’
To say they were unpleasant was an understatement. The worst part of this was that after I quit, my friend stayed on for another week. For some reason, a few days after I tried to find out more about these guys and what they were doing. After a bit of digging around, I came across a video from an Australian current affairs show, called, funnily enough, A Current Affair.
It showed a woman on the trail of the ‘Bitumen Bandits’ as they were referred to. These guys were going around Australia offering to fix people’s driveways and ripping them off. The Modus Operandi was the same as the two guys I worked for. As the video progressed, the woman came into contact with some of the travellers. They were tailing the reporter’s car and pulled up alongside her. A man stuck his head out of the window and gestured for the car to pull over.
My jaw dropped to the floor when I realised who it was, it was one of the guys I had been working for. One-half of the ‘Bitumen bandits.’ These guys had obviously decamped to New Zealand after they were rumbled in Australia. No shame at all.
The realisation that I had been working for conmen wasn’t a comfortable one. Even though I hadn’t ripped anyone off, the fact that I had helped ‘fix’ these driveways and got paid for it didn’t sit easily with me.
It’s one of the reasons I quit after two weeks. Not only was the quality of the work we were doing terrible, but it was also the abuse they gave us as well. They treated their clients with contempt and they treated us with contempt too.
We’d get shouted at all day, these guys would drive off for hours on end and leave us with nothing to do in the middle of rural New Zealand. The only respite was that we were getting paid $150 a day but seeing as that was a result of ripping customers off, I was doing mental gymnastics to justify taking the money.
I only worked for these guys for two weeks but the experience remains vivid six years later. I’ve worked in a variety of jobs in England and in the other countries that I’ve travelled and lived, but none of them was as bad as this one.
Even though the experience was brief, I learnt a few lessons during those two weeks. Firstly, if something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. I had an inkling something was off on the first day and by the start of the second day, my concerns had proven to be correct.
Secondly, money isn’t everything. We took the job because the pay was too good to turn down. However, what we were doing amounted to a bare-bones version of repairing a driveway. Sometimes, even if the money is good, we should turn it down. I should have taken the money on the first day and called it quits.
But I was young, a backpacker in New Zealand who had gone there to work and needed the work. So, I stuck at it for another two weeks. You shouldn’t let money come between you and your principles. That was a lesson I learnt once I quit after those two weeks.
Finally, always check what you’re getting yourself into. We thought we were getting hired by a legitimate company when it turned out these guys were conmen. To be fair, we should have realised this after replying to a posting on Gumtree. It’s not the most reliable place to find work!
All in all, if something feels wrong then it usually is. Working for two conmen was not something I thought I’d end up doing when I was backpacking in New Zealand. I never came across them again after I quit and I’ve no idea if they got their comeuppance or not.
I can only hope that they have.