Danger of the job at any cost approach

Thursday 30 May 2013, 06pm

By Aideen Carberry - Mandate Organiser

One of the biggest global trends in recent years has been in the rise of precarious employment.

In an economy that is obsessed by ‘jobs at any cost’, people welcome the announcement of jobs being created, understandably. However, the part-time, fixed-term, flexible contracts, once thought to have been a temporary measure conceived of by employers to deal with the economic slowdown, have now become entrenched in our labour markets.

Employers are using every available opportunity to make these types of contracts the norm.

Few questions are being asked as to the quality of these jobs as they come on the market.

Are they the types of employment that people can live independently on? Are they enough to sustain a decent quality of life?

Are they the types of employment that one could build a future on? Are they jobs that offer career advancement and the opportunity to develop as an individual?

The reality is that many of these jobs are none of the above. They are just enough to keep someone off the Live Register, yet too little to give an individual the means to live an independent life.

Flexible work affects collective bargaining rights. As the ILO symposium on Policies and Regulations to Combat Precarious Work, 2011 stated, “while more countries formally guarantee core labour rights, fewer workers can exercise these rights due to the rise in precarious work.” There is a link between precarious work and the erosion of workers’ rights.

This is particularly true of young people. The number of underemployed 15 to 24 year olds in the OECD countries is at its highest since the organisation started collecting data.  The current climate means young people are coming to expect less and less from their employment.

They are entering the workforce after college or school with the impression that they should be glad to find themselves in these types of employments.

Their generation’s mantra ‘A job is a job’ is affecting their will and desire to organise in their workplace. They dare not claim the hard-fought-for labour rights generations before them have secured.

The beginning of one’s working life tends to be the most formative. A young person who finds it difficult to find work at the beginning of their career suffer from what is known as a ‘wage scar’, meaning they are likely to earn less than their peers who find work immediately after school or college for a large part of their career.

Studies from the UK and America show that this can persist into middle age. In the US, studies have shown that employers seeking new recruits for quality jobs generally preferred fresh graduates (of school or university) over the unemployed or underemployed, leaving a cohort of people with declining long-term job and wage prospects: “youth left behind”, in the words of a recent OECD report.

Japan's “lost decade” workers make up a disproportionate share of depression and stress cases reported by employers.

Suggestions to solve the crisis in youth unemployment and underemployment are few and far between. Jobsbridge, while it may have been well intentioned, has led to abuses for interns.

It also ignores the fact that internships and further education are useless if there is no stimulus package to create jobs.

There is little point in driving down the economy with austerity measures on one hand, and attempting to educate young people for jobs that don’t exist on the other.

There is also the fact that internships may not be a necessary part of preparing a young worker for the workplace for some types of employments; and they have replaced training that could be completed while the worker is in employment.

It is up to all of us, as union activists, to be keenly aware of the types of employments our friends and family take up; and how it affects their lives.

And, more importantly, it should be up to each of us to educate younger workers that they should not be taken in by the prospect of a job at any cost.

Our young workers need to start expecting more for themselves and their peers. Only then can they begin to organise and campaign to maintain the workplace rights past generations fought for.


You can read more articles like this in Mandate's Shopfloor magazine.

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