From top: The Launch of Generation Precarious yesterday; Paul Murphy
Varadkar’s Republic of Opportunity sloganeering hides the reality of a Republic of Precarity for many workers.
The process of increasing ‘flexibility’ in the labour market has intensified over the course of the crisis and its aftermath. It is yet another indication of Naomi Klein’s ‘shock doctrine‘ in action – with a crisis of neo-liberal capitalism used to further embed that model.
Precarity can be an ambiguous concept, allowing the government and right-wing economists to deny any expansion. However, it can be defined broadly as employment “which is insecure, uncertain or unpredictable from the point of view of the worker.” (ICTU report: ‘Insecure and Uncertain’: Precarious Work in the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland).
It should be indisputable that precarious work in its myriad of different forms has increased dramatically in Ireland, as it has in western Europe and the US in the context of the economic crisis.
It takes multiple forms, from the ‘bogus self-employment’ to the widespread existence of zero hour or ‘if and when’ contract workers, as well as the spread of temporary and part-time contracts and agency workers and unpaid internships.
Side by side with that, corporate profits have gone through the roof – having doubled from €75 billion in Ireland in 2011 to €150 billion in 2015. These come at the expense of workers working harder and longer for the same wages.
The ‘gig’ or ‘contingent’ economy is presented by right-wing economists as being an opportunity for freedom and choice. In reality, it is a tool for reducing the cost of labour and increasing the rate of exploitation by denying legal rights that employees with permanent contracts would be entitled to. It represents a partial return to early 20th century working conditions.
A number of useful reports and studies have recently been published into the expansion of precarious employment in Ireland by TASC and ICTU. Some of the key features which emerge are the fact 12% of workers are now self-employed with no employees – in other words, likely to be effectively in bogus self-employment.
Some 7% of the labour force is working in temporary employment, with half of them (70,500 workers) in temporary employment because they could not find permanent work – a 179% increase on 2008.
Over the course of the crisis, there has been a significant increase in the number of workers who are employed part-time – with 456,200 workers, almost a quarter of all employees.
The fact that there are around 110,000 less workers in full-time permanent employemnt than there were in 2008 is a striking illustration of the changed nature of the labour market.
Just over 8% of workers usual hours varied considerably from week to week or month to month, meaning they probably have zero hour, low hour or if and when contracts.
The evidence illustrates that these precarious contracts are concentrated in certain sectors – such as hospitality, care work as well as construction. It is disproportionally young workers and women who are affected.
These statistics translated into the daily lives of workers means massive instability in people’s lives. It means an inability to plan for next week, nevermind next month, because you don’t know what hours you’ll be working.
It means being unable to get a mortgage because you can’t point to a guaranteed number of hours and income. It means a significant increase in mental health problems caused by such an unstable existence.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The historic #McStrike in Britain won the biggest pay rise for workers at the company in 10 years. Deliveroo workers, who are a classic example of ‘bogus self-employment’ have also been getting organised.
Six years ago, we launched the ScamBridge campaign and website, which contributed to the public awareness of the reality of JobBridge exploitation which ultimately led to the scheme being abandoned by the government.
Yesterday, we launched Generation Precarious with the aim of doing something similar to tackle the much bigger issue of precarious work.
The campaign has a two track strategy.
Firstly, to raise awareness of the reality of precarious work and the impact it has on people’s lives and to push for government action to eliminate precarious work, through the banning of zero hour and ‘if and when’ contracts, the introduction of ‘fair scheduling’ and for the outlawing of all unpaid work along with a series of other demands.
Secondly, to highlight and expose particularly exploitative employers, as we did with ScamBridge. We want people to contact us with their stories.
In the coming weeks, we will be selecting our first employer to target for protest to expose their treatment of workers. Crucially, we will be working with those affected by precarious work to try to assist them getting organised into trade unions, which is ultimately the best way to ensure better working conditions.
Paul Murphy is Solidarity TD for Dublin South West and member of the Socialist Party. Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulmurphy_TD