The Socialist spoke to Seamus, an apprentice carpenter in Dublin.
“I started my trade as an apprentice carpenter in Dublin seventeen months ago. I very quickly came to believe that my boss was a cowboy but over time I have come to understand that the way he operates is the rule rather than the exception. I have worked, until now, for a subbie. There was only one qualified chippy in the company, the rest were either Lithuanian and Romanian lads, some of whom were on around €500 a week, or first year apprentices on about half that again.
“The other “first year apprentice” I was working with had been nearly two years waiting to be called for his block release, according to FÁS this should only take around five or six months. When I eventually convinced him to contact FÁS behind the employer’s back they said that their records said that he’d left the trade. The boss had tricked him into refusing a place in a training centre sixty or seventy miles away on the basis that something better would come up and then never re-registered him. I was determined that this wouldn’t happen to me.
“I went and joined the union, BATU and explained this situation to them, and also that he was not paying the rates, travel time, overtime etc. They were very supportive but as I was the only unionised carpenter on the job it was very difficult to do anything about it. I tried to discuss the idea of joining the union with some of the lads but got nowhere. Some were worried about the consequences of joining a union, or just thought they’d just keep their heads down till they found a better job. One lad had even been told that apprentices had their own special union that he was automatically a member of so he couldn’t join BATU.
“I took matters into my own hands contacting FÁS directly a number of times to make sure that I got registered. When I was eventually called for my block release the boss refused to release me. Legally, he had no choice but to let me go, in fact FÁS are legally obliged to compel him to let me go but my arguments fell on deaf ears. A month or so later we were told that there was no work and were left to sit at home with no pay for five weeks.
“Since finally getting to college, only two of fourteen lads are unionised, I’ve realised that my experiences are far from unique. The construction industry and apprenticeships are, formally, regulated by the REA and a raft of other laws but without wokers organised to defend their rights this means fuck all”.