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Working in 2012

Over the last few years I have had my fair share of experience within the Irish workforce. No matter what job I had I always felt secure in the fact that I knew my employer had to treat me a certain way, for instance there was no fear of them working me for 24 hours without a break or deciding they wanted me to carry out my work while wearing a chicken suit. I felt safe in the knowledge that I lived in a country that protected workers rights so much so that we had them written down and ratified in the form of the Irish Constitution. However, since that oh so familiar word “recession” became part of our lives I have most definitely seen a different side to Irish employment.

Perhaps the Irish employees of pre-2008 were a tad spoiled with our part-time/ flexi-time/ wheneverwefeellikeit-time ideas of work. It was a buyers market and we were all enjoying watching those stinking rich capitalists fighting for our over-valued labour. Alas, the capitalists traded, lied, sold and cheated their way to an economic collapse and now all of us workers are faced with a much grimmer reality, one were almost 14.9% of us can’t even call ourselves workers anymore. 

So how has this affected those of us lucky enough to hold onto our jobs? Well we’re expected to work more hours for less money, less benefits and well, less of a life. Employers can now find a couple of hundred other people far more capable of doing our jobs leaving us with the foreboding sense that one mistake will cost us our livelihood.

There is huge pressure to be overly efficient and absolutely always available regardless if you have 6 children at home or if your mother has just died. Being early is the new being on time and a 9-5 working day is more of a rough guideline than actual working hours. The stress of keeping a job is colossal and more and more people are folding underneath it.

Even if employees do know that their rights are being violated or that they are being treated unfairly many feel unable to voice their concerns. This could be for various reasons such as the fear of being let go or the fear of being unable to get another job or simply not having the knowledge of employment rights in the first place.

People are just accepting their situation, which only serves to encourage employers to continue extracting every precious resource from their employees in an unfair and illegal manner.

Redundancy is such a familiar idea to us now that those selected for it may not even question if their selection is legal. Similarly, companies are using the idea of redundancy as a cover for unfair dismissals. In the same vein the idea of a “probationary period” allows employers to give no warning of dismissals allowing them to hire people on temporary contracts on lower rates of pay and then dismissing them when the time comes to pay them more.   

The idea of ‘internships’ used to have such positive connotations. Internships were a chance to gain experience in professional fields that were notoriously difficult to gain access to and usually required a great deal of education to become part of. However it seems that nearly every type of business out there has caught on to this idea resulting with the word ‘internship’ becoming interchangeable with ‘free labour’.

In the last few months I have seen advertisements for ‘interns’ as car-parking attendants, sales-assistants, launderette workers and many other similar non-skilled roles. These were the types of jobs that people could previously walk into without even having finished school. Now, suddenly, they are prestigious enough sectors to require ‘interns’ to learn about them, all at the cost of absolute zero to the employer of course. I am all for internships, having had several myself however they are only suitable in industries that require people to have particular learned skills and qualifications. How is anyone ever expected to secure a job when businesses can now get free labour?

I think it’s about time the Irish government realised that workers are sick of being walked all over. There needs to be an active effort to make citizens aware of their employment rights and to start to incentivise employers to hire permanent staff. The majority of Irish people are not the type to sit down with a ‘worker’s rights’ handbook, things need to be told to them clearly, concisely and in an accessible manner. It is also essential to begin legislating for ALL types of workers whether they are full time, in a probationary period or interns and ensure that they all have equal rights to fair treatment.

Ireland is by no means the worst country when it comes to the treatment of its workers however we are a country that has worked hard to develop a positive image of ourselves to the world. This image however has slowly been corroded over the last 4 years. Every day young Irish workers are leaving for greener pastures and with them they carry negative experiences and stories that will only add to our faltering reputation. Ensuring that those of us who remain on this sinking ship are treated fairly will most definitely act as a sign to the world that the great country we once were is still here…..somewhere.

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