Belfast SY Public Meeting on why you should fight for socialism
Thousands of secondary school students awaited A-level and GCSE results anxiously last month. Again it was another record-breaking year for Northern Ireland students who again improved on the previous years results. But even pupils who have achieved top grades will be forced to compete for the miniscule amount of university places on offer. This, and the fact that the education budget faces cuts of 25% this year, leaves tens of thousands of young people in the North without any access to education or a decent job.
By Patrick McGeown, Socialist Youth Lurgan
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.
For the majority of young people in Northern Ireland life is getting more difficult rather than easier.
Despite forecasts in the past of a ‘peace dividend’, ordinary working class people and youth have seen little improvement in their daily lives, in fact the Assembly Executive’s policies are set to make things worse.
Unemployment is becoming an increasingly likely prospect for many young people. For 18-24 year olds, the rate of unemployment has increased by 4% to 11% in the last year alone. This adds to the difficulties facing young workers who often earn low levels of pay based on a discriminatory minimum wage. Last year saw a 3% rise in the minimum wage for workers aged 22 or over, bringing it to £5.52 despite an 11 year high of over 4% in the Retail Price Index of inflation. For younger workers, the minimum wage is even more appalling. The rate for 18- 21 year olds is now £4.60 and the rate for 16 and 17 year olds has increased up by 10p to £3.40.
What makes these levels of poverty pay and unemployment even more unbearable is the Assembly’s pro-big business agenda – cuts in the health service, funnelling public money into private pockets through PFI and PPP projects, privatising our water service, which will cause a huge rise in water bills and will add to the precarious situation facing many young workers.
For many students, the situation is the same: desperate. Increasing living costs combined with tuition fees of over £3,000 a year are either leaving students in crippling amounts of debt or are forcing them out of universities altogether.
Despite the Assembly flirting with the idea of a Scottish-style education system (which, contrary to popular belief, still leaves many students under a mountain of debt) no commitments have been made to offer students what they need – free education and a living grant for all.
These shortcomings are not mistakes on the Assembly’s part. Rather they are part of a conscious policy to put the interests of big business in front of the interests of workers and young people.
Socialist Youth believes that now, perhaps more than ever, it is necessary to organise a fightback against the neo- liberal attacks being made on workers and young people.
We are an active campaigning organisation, which fights against all forms of discrimination, sectarianism and exploitation and for a democratically run socialist alternative to the neo-liberal attacks of the Assembly parties.
Get involved: Join the fightback today! Join Socialist Youth
The Socialist spoke to Susie and Tomas about their experiences working for agencies in Dublin. Susie works for a temping agency called Angels working in administration and customer services.
“Working for a temping agency can be really insecure as some jobs last a week or two and others may only last a few days. I get paid between €10 and €11 an hour and I know I am paid less that the permanent staff. If I am sick I don’t get paid and of course I don’t get holiday pay.
“It causes me all sorts of problems being an agency worker. Even if I could afford to buy a house, I would never get a mortgage because I haven’t got a permanent job and it is a problem trying to get any type of credit. “I have been trying to get a permanent job but it is difficult, if you look on jobs.ie, the majority in this area of work are agency jobs.”
Tomas was employed by an agency to do customer care work for Eircom. “There is a huge difference between being an agency worker in Eircom and a permanent worker. Permanent staff get a pay rise ever year, have pensions, sick and holiday pay (more holidays) and are members of a union – the agency workers got none of that. I was the only agency worker who was a member of the union, but the agency refuses to recognise the union.
“When I worked in Vodafone for an agency I was getting paid €7,500 a year less that the permanent workers doing the same job as me. Companies are saving a fortune using agency workers, and they can also get rid of you anytime they want because agency workers have no rights.”