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FUELING THE NATION

By Burite Joseph

Many drivers dont trust fuel attendants

It is easier for most Ugandan drivers to entrust a million shillings with a kid than pull into a fuel station and look the other side sure of having their whole worth of fuel. Such has been the perception towards a pump attendant that the notoriety associated with it virtually eludes the sense of pride for one to introduce himself as one. A life of delusion where trust and honesty are a far cry: agreed?

And when some one introduces him or herself to a driver as a pump attendant, the former is most likely to think of him as a cheat whether he has done it before or not. In this humility they have lived with an attitude that seems to pronounce that they don’t really give a damn what people say.

But like all jobs, pump attendant ship has also got its own perks and off course its own lows and this is the reason why some one will endure the humiliation of being labeled different not so good names just the same way a prostitute won’t be more or less threatened by what people think.

Moses Mugisha of Delta Petroleum says that most of them went to it just as a base where they could work while they look for the professional jobs but with time we begun to like it and as of now I am personally inseparable with fuel pumping.

“What makes it interesting is that we meet a lot of people from the abusive ladies to the aggressive drunkards who will even deny being drunk there by accusing you of trying to cheat them and you are supposed to find the best possible polite way to deal with them or else you risk losing the job” he says.

Is it true that these people bakuubaa empeewo {literally meaning the act of giving the customer less or nothing of what they paid for}? This has been the worst habit associated with pump attendants with testimonies of how drivers sure of having a given amount of fuel to take them a given distance only to run out of fuel a few meters from the fuel station.

Moses Mugisha (not real names) admits that because of the conditions, one gets tempted to have a
Long hand but it is not true that all of them have the habit. He says that while most workers find it hard to resist the temptation, some of them have tried to maintain a higher degree of honesty.

The loses here are more or less automatic and however prudent one may be, it is not a surprise for one to have a shortage at the end of the day. From giving excess balance to getting cheated by some crooks or even forgetting to pick the money after serving a customer, the pump he says is bound to discipline you.

Like one Runyankole proverb says, omwishikyii omwee kwaatwaaraa ahamugoongoo, ajumiisaa bonaa (when one girl in a village gets pregnant, the chastity always goes to all the other girls in the locality). This perhaps is the reason all pump attendants have been labeled as cheats.

Godwin Mutungi, a car owner, however has a different approach to these so-called cheats. He says the all he did was to make a choice of one petrol station and subsequently got one person to serve him on a regular basis. This in turn created a good relationship between them to the extent that they both find it morally difficult to cheat each other.

While their bosses always insist on the workers being polite to every one, Rebbecca Nabatanzi also an attendant in Nakulabye rules out the possibility of being polite to everyone, she narrates an ordeal when a plane clothed security operative out of no where claimed to have been cheated by the boy who was operating the manual pump. Though most people knew it wasn’t true, they gave in because he had a gun.’ Believe me you he took the free fuel but he didn’t survive the abuse’ she pronounces

Mzee Edward Kalikwani also a pump attendant intimates that this job is not for the faint hearted considering the security risks involved, he says that thought of having to hold a lot of money some times over a million that is not yours gets some chills running through the body and most of the time, it’s the security guards that actually turn into threats.

Indeed, it is common occurrence that guards have been implicated in several robbery cases for either being accomplices, for being negligent or for executing the robbery themselves. Moses Mugisha intimates that these Askaris {security guards} sleep even before ten leaving the attendants prone to night robberies.

Moses narrates an incident at one of the stations operated by his company in Mukono an attendant happened to be at the pump alone when a man came for about a thousand litters in jerry cans. Because the attendants are always excited about prospect of big sales, the boy didn’t bother to wake up his workmates. But just when he was remaining with one jerry can to fill, the man sent him for one of Paraffin which pumps are a bit a distance, when he turned back the man was speeding away, he didn’t also wait to be held .He just picked his belongings and run away leaving the security guard to face the heat.

Nicholas Ruhweza says that it is very hard to work here and maintain the honesty of a clergy ‘‘I mean not with the losses that are more or less automatic. And when it comes to the chilly nights, sometimes one has no option but to sleep with the prostitutes who are that opportunistic that they pass around at a time when you feel like it’’.

“This has indeed put some of those who don’t have a higher degree of self consciousness at a higher risk of acquiring HIV” he says.

Moses says that one of the biggest problems they face is the issue of legal tender. While it is a money economy, some people come for fuel with such items as phones, pass ports; most of them are even very abusive when you refuse. He says that sometimes you sympathize with them for emergencies only for them to spend a week instead of the often promised “one-hour”.

According to Gram Mugumya, what fascinates people most is the way we manage to survive on a salary as meager as a pump attendant’s, which generates suspicion amongst the buyers because it all seems unrealistic.

Earning between Ush100000 and 120000 depending on which company one works with, most people are tempted to think that it’s not worth it but these cunning workers have a way of surviving, one of these is recurring of debts from a day’s sales to the next days. With a typical day’s taking between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm, the one going in for the next shift can lend some money to the one submitting who does the same in his next shift.

This chain of recurring can go on for a month when salaries are paid so they also pay back. Moses however admits that their needs a lot of opportunitism to survive here example drivers of organizations that have contracts to take fuel on credit often deal with attendants such that they sign for a higher amount of fuel but take less, the balance is shared with the attendant.

Moses however says that is for the wise because if one gives a higher amount of money than what he sold for a particular commodity, the cashier will get to know, and never- the-less, employers can tell from a reduction in a day’s cash sales.

While the entrepreneurs in this industry make a lot of money, they are most of the time ignore what makes the money for them in terms of the human resource and the technical equipments. Moses Mugisha says it’s common to find a worker here wearing a torn uniform there by making the customers unimpressed.

Sezi Kabanda, the Managing Director of Delta Petroleum, furiously dismisses these claims explaining that all stations are fitted with modern fire and security systems. ‘’Workers are provided with gum boots, overcoats and they are not allowed to touch fuel in any way’’ he adds.

Reports also show that over exposure to petroleum products without proper protection gear can result into health complications such as infertility and low sperm count in the males. This protection gear however is a far cry to most local fuel workers who have been subjected to working in regular cotton wool uniforms, which put workers at risk of toxic chemicals.

Most of the employers Moses says are so brave at this game, because they are always sure of not retaining an employee for long, they don’t give appointment letters to the recruits so in case they misbehave, they cane be relieved of their duties without pay, which they have no claim on because they have nothing to prove they ever worked there.

Sezi Kabanda says that the issue of welfare of these pump attendants depends on a company’s business strategy. ‘’ Delta petroleum contracts dealerships which maintain there independence on station administration except for minimum standards which are set by the company in line with the employment act.’’ He says to the chagrin of the workers who are always counting on the company executives to save the situation.

“The fuel sector, observers say is probably the most labor exploiting sector in this country with workers working in harsh conditions which no one even Government agencies are so reluctant to recognize,” declares William Kagimu, an independent business analyst in Kampala referring to the working conditions like having no shelter during the night whether it rains or not as one has to stay at the pump all through the night even when there are no customers. ‘`It’s more like Guantanamo ’’ he adds comparatively.

ULTIMATE MEDIA

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