30 March 2010

Buggering Manual for the Newly-Qualified Vet

Remember my possibly good news from a while ago? Before I tell you let me say I am now working at a clinic on the weekends, replacing a colleague (I am all alone!), and the pay is fair. She loved my work, the clients were pleased [preens and struts, owners can be bloody pissy] and I effectively avoided having my face mauled by my first and rather enormous patient, whose owner assured me he never bit and was very well trained but the combination of owner actually not being able to restrain the dog's head and animals with ear infections not taking kindly to having things inserted in said ears, however gently, allowed me to once again demonstrate my superb, Matrix-y reflexes.

I had a job offer that soon turned into a sociological experiment  commentary on 'How Vets Live In Portugal', told from the perspective of the very bottom of the evolutionary ladder, where we tend to unwillingly establish our ecosystems. The job offer read thus:
  • I'd be alone for the most part, i.e., responsible for the clinic
  • The clinic was outside Lisbon (a 100-km commute, which is a lot by our standards)
  • No contract, I'd be paid with green slips*
  • 800 E/month
(* A veneered Portie institution, no idea what they're called in English. We have this little green booklet with receipts that we fill in in exchange for payment when we're working as independent professionals, i.e., no one can be bothered to give us a contract, no social benefits included. It was supposed to be for freelancers, it's become the bane of an entire nation.)

My friend Bee and I sat down to calculate petrol and fiscal expenses:
  • 20% for the IRS: 160 E
  • Social Security: 206 E (bare minimum, no medical leave allowed; were I to want the right to be ill, I'd have to pay more and it still wouldn't include pay)
  • You're exempt from VAT if you earn less than 10.000 a year, though - and what a cheery thought, 'I'm exempt because I earn less than 10.000 E a year!'
  • Petrol and toll fees: 265 E (petrol prices have since gone up, incidentally)
So how much would I be left with to actually live on, after all this?
  • 800-(160+206+265) = 169 E
One hundred and seventy Euros. Bee looked like she was about to cry and kept saying "But I was so happy for you! Are you sure the salary is right? It can't be right, you'll soon be paying to go to work!" Dear, dear Bee...

A while ago I had to meet with a couple who was looking for a rabbi to marry them in Lisbon. The bride was Portie but they'd been living in the UK and US for a long time. We ended up discussing Portugal and she was aghast that I dared to speak against it, what could possibly be wrong with us?

Time and a desire to remain mentally stable prevent an in-depth analysis but let's have a look at a case study: a vet degree is hard [and I will stay away from the actual curriculum this time, remember that exam where we had to sketch and describe a Refrigerating Unit?]. There are a blissful few of prodigious memories who placidly sail through while mostly socialising over beer and fussball at the uni bar but these are not the majority. The majority of us work hard and incessantly just to stay afloat and now the Bologna Convention stipulates we shall work even harder and has added a full Masters' degree to it - unlike human medicine, they end up with the Masters without having to write a thesis, may the pestilence strike them all. And unlike human medicine, our internships are not paid, perish the thought. Then, after we've finally passed all our subjects, done the internship, written an internship report (with many a splendid pie/graph), written the thesis, printed and bound the thesis AS PER REQUIREMENT (allocate a full month for this in catastrophic scenarios), defended said thesis before a jury which will not always understand your subject matter and will, therefore, divert and insist that, e.g., the font used in table 10 does not look quite right and so forth for 21 minutes, or that latero-lateral radiographs are misnomed since *insert academically incomprehensible reason here* and should therefore be called *insert academically incomprehensible term here* and why don't you single-handedly correct the scientific community's misguided ways?, joined the Order of the Angel Wing Phoenix [Vet joke.] [The angel wing bit, I mean.] [Funny vet joke. Seriously.] and then, after over half a decade of this, you are offered the splendid salary of 800 E a month, no contract, for the privilege of working from 10.00 to 20.00, but if the waiting room is full by closing time it can't be helped, you must see every patient so who knows when you'll actually be home and who needs free time anyway, and overtime being paid is a theoretical construct that has no bearing on a vet's life, I might add, not to mention that you'll work at least a weekend a month, possibly two, and regularly be on call during the night.

My situation is by no means an exception, my friend has been working at the same clinic for 4 years, her pay? 1200 glorious Euros, green slips. Another colleague has been looking for a different employer, her latest job interview went like this:

Employer - And you've bee working for how long?
Colleague - Over two years now.
Employer - Do you have any surgical experience?
Colleague - Yes, I regularly do spayings and castrations, cysts removals etc.
Employer - What about more complicated surgeries?
Colleague - I have started doing some of those as well and I'm doing a surgical specialisation [paid by self, mind] at *insert Uni name*.
Employer - *Beaming* How marvellous! I have great news then, we're VERY interested, your working hours would be 10 to 10 and we'd be delighted to pay you 800 E, green slips, can you start this week?

This exchange was not exaggerated, by the way. I have absolutely no polite way to put this so cover your sensibilities: if someone - say, a whole country - is clearly shoving it up your arse shouldn't you at least be paid more for your troubles?

As a result, I've embarked on a simultaneous business venture in order to ensure my retirement but for now let me reiterate: Fuckortugal indeed.

9 furballs:

Sarah said...

The green receipt thing--how old is it? Have they been around forever? The whole concept is horrible, awful, terrible...punish the "freelancers" for the companies not wanting to fork out. Companies are sure to actually make their freelancers part of the real staff when said freelancers are unhappy with being abused by the government.

There's gotta' be some serious lobbying at work here? Is there one particular industry or conglomerate responsible for the introduction of these awful things?

For all the complaints I hear about customer service and bad work habits here in Portugal (which is funny, because Portie workers abroad have the polar opposite rep), I can't help but think I probably wouldn't be all shiny and striving for employee of the month and to make my company a better place if I were making €3 an hour with no sick time or vacation days or the tiniest thread of job security to speak of whatsoever.

Although I only work part-time, I am gloriously lucky to have a contract (and just a few months away from the permanent sort). It is a major exception to the rule in the world of English teaching.

In my previous Portie job in the medical industry, I was horrified by how many nurses work on green recipts. Nurses! A freelance translator, fine. A freelance teacher, fine. A freelance drycleaner, maybe. A freelance nurse? No thank you.

Kath said...

For crying out loud, that's atrocious! I am disgusted -- those are the best-qualified slaves I've ever heard of...

And you, my dear, are simply hilarious. Even abject misery becomes gold in your hands. Now if only it were the kind of gold that actually paid for things...

D said...

Come to Holland. The weather sucks (although they promise a good summer this year) but they actually pay you for your trouble.

I have a good friend who is also a well-established vet. If he doesn't have a job, I'm sure he knows someone who does.
And the pay is, well, shall we say adequate?

I have about 1/4 of your education. I make close to €800 a DAY, (before taxes) and I am not bragging or kidding.

Fuck Portugal indeed. They don't deserve you.
And you practically speak Dutch anway. Zeurpiet.

Lioness said...

Sarah, it's true, there was a study a few years ago that showed we work the longest hours in all of Europe and have the lowest productivity. And yet our emigrants are loved everywhere because they're such hard workers. I don't know what the bloody hell is wrong or who's lobbying, I simply know that this is heaven for companies because they do not need to waste money on needless expenses like medical coverage. It surprises me how people can speak well of Portugal, actually, if they happen to live here. And everyone who doesn't live here and hasn't for years should just be quiet then. Just kiss the ground your boss walks on, is my advice, it's terrible, it's all terrible.

Kath, eh, better laughter than weeping, yes? It is disgusting, especially because we are also to blame. If we as a whole refused all such offers you can rest assured salaries would be higher. But the Portuguese are not a brave people and they'd much rather have slave wages than risk the status quo. So here we are.

Dany, I'm depressed, seriously. SERIOUSLY. Very happy for you, mind, but - depressed.

D said...


I know this is not the right forum for this discussion but I am not kidding. You should not waste your time and talents in a place where you and they are not properly appreciated.

The reason expat Porties are appreciated is exactly because they are the ones fed up with the average Portie mindset - and that mindset is impossible to deal with in the long run for foreigners like me. I told you I have this post I've been meaning to send you on the reasons we left? They're all in there, and most touch upon this subject, to put it mildly. People in Holland rag on civil servants, well, in Portugal it seems almost everyone is one.

The good ones leave, at least temporarily. I know a few who've worked abroad, got extra training, experience and a bit of fortune and went back to Portugal to start for themselves. They are indeed hard and productive workers, able to make it on their own.
But there's an AWFUL lot of slackers in your country. They spend a lot of hours at work but what they do there I cannot imagine, it can't be much to do with actual work.
It's the reason your country's in such financial trouble, even compared to the rest of the EU.

And you can do and deserve to do so much better.
I can't imagine what it's like putting SO much time, effort and creativity into a study, only to have it 'rewarded' like you have.
So seriously, consider moving somewhere where you will be appreciated and rewarded.

JoeinVegas said...

Wow. You seem to be worth so much more. Sorry

Your Beloved Social Commentator said...

Poor, poor, Portugal. There is a broader structural problem here which Johnny doesn't mention, but forms the background for the entire post - Portugal used to have a somewhat more balanced pay/cost-of-living ratio. Then the Euro came and the cost of living shot up to the same or higher as France and Germany, but the salaries stayed the same. Funny how that works.

But Johnny, I totally agree with Dany. I've been saying it for four years and I'll keep on saying it. Come live in North America, preferably near wherever I happen to be. You can come over for dinner all the time (yes! I'll feed you!) and you'll be paid a whole lot more than you are in Portugal, I can promise you that.

Portugal's entire economy is constructed on the idea that people will leave. The country doesn't work if everyone stays. Go ahead, emigrate. Someday your parents will forgive you, you dear only child. (HA HA HA. Isn't culture fun?)

Me again. said...

PS The "mane" picture of you on the blogger profile is HILARIOUS. Rrrrwarrrrr. ;-D

Shoe said...

Ok. Seriously. I'm not going to regale you once AGAIN about the wonders of working as a Vet in Canada... but would you EVER consider working outside of Portugal? I just don't remotely understand how you are going to be able to LIVE under those arcane conditions! Jill and Deb ask the same thing.