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.”
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”.
By Paddy Meehan, Belfast Socialist Youth
Reid Transport’s recent collapse has unearthed the exploitation of a 14 year old worker who worked night shifts of up to 11 hours before going to school the next morning!
The worker, who cannot be named, stated he worked mostly from 8pm to midnight, but on some nights he worked until 7am the next day. On some occasions he was working five nights a week! He kept up this workload while still attending school during the day. This is of course illegal, but as senior barrister Jill Brown recently stated “it does happen quite regularly that children are employed… beyond the hours that they are supposed to be”.
This will come as no surprise to many young workers still at school, who are forced into working longer hours just to keep up with higher living costs. In October 2007 the minimum wage for 16-17 year olds increased by 10p an hour to £3.40. This miserly extra 10p means nothing when the prices of everything from food to CDs are rising daily.
Presently school students can legally work two hours on a school day, but cannot work between 7pm and 7am. This is casually ignored by bosses throughout Northern Ireland. Current legislation, supposedly in favour of protecting young workers, actually excludes workers under 16 from entitlement to the minimum wage. This leads to super-exploitation of under 16’s by bosses being allowed to pay starvation wages.
Since 1997 there has only been one successful prosecution of a company for paying under the minimum wage, making bosses feel confident they can get away with this super-exploitation. Socialist Youth and the Socialist Party however, have forced many businesses to increase wages over the years by ‘Naming & Shaming’ low pay bosses and picketing businesses we have discovered are paying peanuts.
However, greedy employers out to make a profit will always seek ways to further exploit young workers. The example of Reid Transport is only the tip of the iceberg. Socialist Youth has spoken to many young workers who get just £2 an hour! It is the nature of capitalism to pay the lowest wage possible to maximise profits. This exploitation will continue until there is a joint struggle of the low paid to fight for better wages and conditions linked to the building of a socialist alternative to the cut-throat system of capitalism.
Are you low paid? Bad conditions at work? Know your rights? Get organised! – Contact Socialist Youth today at 02890232962 or 07876146473
Socialist Youth demands:
– £8 an hour minimum wage
– Scrap the youth exemptions
– Trade union rights for all young workers
In the last edition of The Socialist we carried an article on migrant workers in Domino’s pizza stores in Wolverhampton and Derby who were earning negative wages after working for a month! Bosses had charged them extortionate amounts for rent and insurance to cheat them out of their wages. It leaves no doubt as to how Domino’s makes their £700 million every year.
To highlight this scandal Socialist Youth in Belfast organised a stall outside a local Domino’s on the Antrim Road on a busy Friday night. We received a warm response from customers to our leaflets. The response of Domino’s however was to ring the police. There is nothing criminal about campaigning for an £8 an hour minimum wage, but the actions of Domino’s in England should be considered criminal.
Many passers-by were shocked to hear of such exploitation and were very happy to sign our petition against low pay. More activity outside Domino’s has been planned in the next few weeks to ensure Domino’s doesn’t get away with treating other workers like slaves.
However Domino’s is not just one bad apple. It is has become the norm for fast food chains to hire migrant and young workers and pay them as little as possible.
There is a lot of anger against this and the many other examples of low pay that we have found. This anger can grow as the pace of attacks from the bosses increases. In order to make more and more profit companies like Domino’s will seek to continually drive down wages.
When Domino’s workers got organised in a union and began to fight for their rights, they were able to hold the bosses back in their attacks. If all workers in the fast food industry united and struggled for higher wages and better conditions employers can be forced to give concessions.