I was always told that if I got a degree, I’d have no trouble finding a well-paid full-time job. I finished college in May, and haven’t been able to find a job, though I have been working part-time in the same pub I’ve been working in since I was sixteen.
Most of the customers either work in the public or construction sectors, so due to the property crash and the cuts to public sector workers’ pay, the pub isn’t half as busy as it was a couple of years ago. Many of the pubs in the local area have laid-off workers or put full-timers on three-day-weeks. All of the part-time staff where I work have had their hours cut. Some of the lounge staff work behind the bar, and because they’re under eighteen, the boss justifies paying below the adult minimum wage, which is well below the rate for qualified bar staff.
The owner is still making tens of thousands a week, but because the profits are down in comparison to last year, he’s demanding cutbacks wherever possible. The paltry €50 Christmas bonus we used to get, was replaced with vouchers last year, and this year we got nothing. Unemployment and poverty are creating social problems that mean that the pub is increasingly dangerous to work in but so long as the tills kept ringing, the safety of the customers and staff is not an issue for the company.
Working in these conditions makes me even more angry when I hear the likes of ISME and IBEC calling for a reduction in the minimum wage. A representative of ISME on Frontline argued that “people who stack shelves and sweep floors should be paid €5.50 per hour”. According to him, we need to lower wages for job creation and to help business owners to generate wealth. Business owners don’t generate wealth in society, workers do. Without the staff, all my boss would have is an empty and closed shop. In the same episode of Frontline, Jack O’Connor argued that if you take ISME’s argument to the extreme, then workers should work for nothing in order to make Ireland more competitive.
Jack O’Connor is correct to point out the absurdity of the argument, but what has he done for workers lately? The unwillingness of the trade union leaders to mobilise the power of the workers’ movement to defeat government cuts has emboldened the business establishment in demanding minimum wage cuts. The union leaders are selling us out at every turn. And it’s no wonder when most of them earn over €100,000 a year. How would they know what life is like for low paid workers like me.