Students, workers and precariousness

 
 

We’re Not Leaving, a group representing students, young unemployed and precarious workers, is hosting an event on precarious work tomorrow, Thursday 5th March at 4.00pm in L503 on the 5th floor of the James Joyce Library. Ahead of the event, Robert Murtaugh looks the damaging effect of precarious employment on students and young people.

For a young person in Ireland today, being in employment is seen as the most significant step forward in improving one’s life, giving further independence, the ability to have an education and to learn the skills necessary to develop both personally and professionally. Unfortunately, the reality is much starker for the average young person in Ireland. Despite the government saying that employment is on the rise, much of this increase in recent years has come from employment of a precarious nature.

When we say precarious work, this includes jobs which are non-permanent, casual and insecure, and those in which workers are often not protected by labour law and social welfare. These employment practices are designed to maximise profits for employers and shift risks onto workers.

Young people under the age of 25 make up 43% of low-pay jobs. On top of receiving poor wages, declines in working hours have occurred mostly within occupations which are labour-intensive and low-wage. As well as earning less per hour, workers in these low-pay jobs work fewer hours, get less overtime hours, and receive lower renumeration for overtime than those in higher-paying jobs.

Furthermore, instability for workers in these positions has been worsened by the increasing prevalence of zero-hour and temporary contracts. These zero-hour contracts include no obligation for the employer to provide hours at all, merely requiring the employee to be available to work at any given time.

Consequently, it would be wrong not to acknowledge the effects the precarious nature of work has on the other parts of young people’s lives. When we talk of precariousness, the concept is not just confined to employment (even though it may originate there). Instead, precariousness has the knock-on effect of infiltrating the other arenas of a person’s life such as education, housing, health and a person’s independence.

One area of a young person’s life that can be adversely affected by precariousness is education. Students in Ireland today now have the extra financial burden of paying for increasing tuition fees and rocketing rental prices, with many struggling to juggle the requirements of their college course with the often uncompromising demands precarious employment brings with it. This is not even taking into consideration the many young people who find it extremely difficult to fund their education through precarious work in the first place.

It is also important not to ignore the effect this state of precariousness can have on an individual’s well-being and mental health. The unstable and fragile nature of employment accompanied by the stress involved in attempting to maintain financial security is extremely detrimental to the well-being of young students and workers.

Additionally, the prevalence of insecure, unstable employment in the labour market today leaves little oppurtunity for young people to live independently from their familes and to develop as people both personally and professionally. Young people today do not want to be the next generation that live with their parents until they are 30 years old. They are not the lazy couch potatoes that they are often framed as. Students want to work, want to learn and want to develop as people. The precarious nature of employment on offer in Ireland stifles the ability maintain financial independence, pursue career and hinder personal development.

All of the above illustrates the many negative ways in which precariousness can affect young peoples’ lives. And what is troubling is how the idea of precarious employment has become the new norm for young people in Ireland today. The results of this can be seen in the consistent level of emigration of young people from the country in recent years.

While the government, big business and also the media paint the picture that precarious work is necessary and a sign of recovery for the country, it remains to be seen now this ‘recovery’ has translated into the lives of students and young workers who are sufferring from low-paid work, unemployment, higher tuition fees and rising rents. Recovery is not just about the numbers, it is about realizing real progress in the standard of people’s living. It certainly does not feel like “a recovery” to them. The question then becomes, what can young people do to combat these poor working conditions?

There are trade unions such as Mandate Trade Union which represent many precarious workers in the retail sector, offerring support and guidance to young workers. We are currently seeing Mandate represent workers from Dunnes Stores who are campaigning against poor working conditions and unstable working hours. Groups such as We’re Not Leaving actively campaign on youth-related issues, in particular on youth precariousness and have contributed to many campaigns in recent years. Third Level Workplace Watch are another organisation that highlight the precarious nature of academic work – an area which has been largely ignored.

It might be clichéd to some, but there really is strength in numbers when it comes to confronting these problems. It must be remembered that precarious employment is not something that affects a small amount of people, but that there are many many others sufferring from its ails. For example the way in which the Paris Bakery Dublin employees in 2014 fought for the money they were owed from their employer through protest and campaigning show that there is potential when those sufferring act, and more importantly, when they act together.

What this shows is that there is support and different avenues forward for achieving change. As a group in Irish society, young people have suffered much in recent years. As a group, young people have been targeted in employment, targeted in social welfare and targeted in education. What is needed, is a response. But in order to achieve improvements, this response must come as a group. Through engaging, organizing and effective campaigning, change can be achieved together.

As a result, it is important that there is increased awareness surrounding the issue and that more young people engage in ways to counter the continuation of precarious employment. In response to this, We’re Not Leaving is hosting a discussion on precarious work, focusing on the casualisation of work and the worsening of conditions within the university, poor living and working conditions for students, and the forced emigration of graduates due to unemployment and a lack of decent opportunities. The event will take place on Thursday 5th March at 4.00pm in L503 on the 5th floor of the James Joyce Library.

We want to hear your experiences of low-wage, unstable or casual employment  and your input into what can be done to improve conditions and security of young people in employment. Through sharing our ideas and experiences, we can build strong resistance to precariousness and put workers’ rights to stable, fair and permanent employment centre-stage.

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