FEARGAL De BUitleir spoke to Conor, an apprentice electrician from Dublin about the situation facing many young workers today
“I STARTED my apprenticeship in 2002 when I was 17. I’ve worked for three companies. The first company didn’t provide much training, and they had a practice of letting a load of apprentices go with the excuse that there was no work. Usually just before they got out of college. About two weeks later they take on more lads. At the time I quit the company, they let ten guys go and hired five others a few weeks later.
“The second company were in the practice of doing everything as cheap and fast as possible, to an extreme sense. I was with them a year and a half, travelled 50/miles a day, received no travelling expenses, got about €300 a week. I received very little training with them. Eventually it cost more money to get there than I was being paid.
“The third employer was the worst. He’s quite well known, apparently the unions had been after him for years, there were dozens of complaints against him. That was in 2007 and the housing market was starting to slow down. He had two qualified lads on site working for €300 a week!
“A friend of mine tried to get the TEEU involved on site regarding benefits and back money. It ended in a fight between him, the foreman and one of the foreman’s friends. The foreman and a few core people on that site had a bit of a racket going. They did very little work, left early when they chose etc. They didnt want any interference from ‘the office’. That’s when I joined the union, the TEEU.
“There were other senior TEEU members on site, they generally kept their heads down and did most of the work. They were supportive, but they knew there was little they could do. The guy who stood up to the foreman was a 4th year apprentice and a TEEU member. When the housing boom blew out, I was given a week’s notice. I was taken back on three weeks later, after that, a guy from the office came down and told me I wasn’t working fast enough. I was rang the next day and told to get my tools and get out.
“I may leave the country to try to further my education or find a different job. An electrician has a bleak future in this country, especially if the treatment of employees during the boom time is any model to go by.
“Better organisation may help. Perhaps there should be a special section of the union for apprentices.
“When a company bids for a contract they will always be outbid by the company that docks wages and cuts benefits. Therefore, as long as one company gets away with it, the others are forced to compete. Even though it looks very diffcult to effect a change now, I think it’s still worth a try.”