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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 18 February, 2020
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Column: Jobseekers are treated like monkeys by companies paying peanuts

The unemployed are forced to jump through humiliating hoops to get work – at a minimum wage that isn’t just callous but insane, writes blogger Lisa McInerney.

Lisa McInerney

A FRIEND OF MINE, out of work for the past two years and growing ever more pessimistic about there being a future on the blinding blue horizon, received a phone call today on his most recent CV submission. It’s for a job he’s overqualified for. It most likely doesn’t pay well. But choice is a concept tied to prosperity, isn’t it?

“Can you come in for an interview?” asks the employer’s representative.

“I can,” replies my friend. “When?”

“Oh, pop in this evening. It’s just for a chat, a five minute face-to-face so we can access preliminary suitability and then recommend candidates to the GM for an interview.”

It’s a half-hour drive from my friend’s home town to the business address. Having to come in for a five-minute size-up isn’t exactly an exciting prospect. Still, he agrees; he can hardly say no.

“Do you have any experience?” dithers the rep.

“Erm… did you read my CV?”

“Hmm? Oh. No. It was, like… couldn’t open the attachment… computer… erm, problem.”

“I have experience.”

“Great, great. See you later!”

My friend is right to go to the pre-interview interview, of course. Beggars can’t be choosers – sure they didn’t even choose to be beggars in the first place. And yer man God never closed a door but he put his foot through a window, so jobless wastrels must grab a hold of whatever gift horse is skittering past and hang on even if reality is rapping the hell out of their knuckles. Such is post-crash Ireland.

I’m not necessarily on the side of propriety, though. I would have had a serious issue with driving the half-hour to a pre-interview interview. For a start, unless you’re applying for a position at Spearmint Rhino, pre-interview interviews could be conducted perfectly satisfactorily over the phone. Why demand an applicant travel in to meet one of your underlings for a quick size-up? It’s ridiculous, and not a little demeaning.

Secondly, what kind of professional set-up scans a CV for a phone number without reading the applicant’s personal statement or qualifications? It’s so slapdash a recruitment procedure that it sounds suspect; I’m half-inclined to think the poor bloke is going to be bundled in a crate and sold into slavery once he arrives.

Still, this is the mill through which we grind our jobseekers. Poke ‘em, prod ‘em, make ‘em jump through flaming hoops. I’m hearing constantly about how employers are finding it so, so difficult to fill vacancies these days. The damn lazy jobseekers are earning far too much on the dole, it seems, to want to play ball. The Small Firms Association whinges, pitched to a perfect mosquito tone, about how the exorbitant minimum wage in Ireland is suffocating the competitiveness of the economy, as though the only way to stimulate our bled-hollow nation is to squeeze the working class til their corpses are dry enough to use as kindling.

On the new Irish minimum wage, you earn €15,514 a year.

A year.

Fifteen and a half grand.

This is not a salary you should pay a population you hope will pump it back into the economy, is it? Presuming that the average monthly house rent (at least, outside of the capital, where people are sharing kitty transporters and trying not to catch each other’s rashes) is €800, that cuts a whopping €9600 out of that measly fifteen and a half grand. That leaves less than six grand for bills, fuel, transport, food, clothes, healthcare, et cetera et cetera. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? I don’t have to keep up with the Junior Cert Business Studies lesson. Paying somebody fifteen and a half grand a year to live on in modern Ireland isn’t just callous, or cold, or worthy of a pub snug lament. It’s just stupid.

The argument of the SFA is that small businesses cannot remain in business if they have to pay employees more than fifteen and a half grand a year. Their other, more ludicrously altruistic argument is that having such a generous minimum wage as an entire €8.65 an hour (a whole extra euro!) prices “raw” candidates out of the jobs market. Better employees waste away on the sidelines than have the State “block them from working…” – by paying them a massive seventeen and a half grand a year, logic fans – “in order to retain an absurd notion of what a job is worth”.

Did you get that? Promotion of a cruelly scanty (as opposed to downright insane) minimum wage would be but peddling “an absurd notion of what a job is worth,” according to the Small Firms Association.

Dear Small Firms Association Capitalists. Here’s a capitalist theory. If you cannot afford staff, you have no business operating a business. Here is a rock! Crawl back under it, like good lads.

I know. I’m being a bit ranty, aren’t I? I can’t help it; I’m Irish, and my country’s been sold out from under my feet for a few steel girders and a couple of jolly rounds of golf, and somehow, somehow, it’s entirely the fault of people like me, who work and struggle and toil like Boxer the horse.

Would you get out of bed for fifteen and a half grand a year?

Well, here’s the thing. A huge amount of us would. My company recently advertised two entry-level positions, and received dozens and dozens of CVs – some from ideal candidates, thick on the ground as old chewing gum, and some more from completely unsuitable candidates, who were trying their luck anyway. We even got begging letters. Begging letters.

Despite what the anti-working class brigade would have you believe, most of us seem willing to work for peanuts if it means avoiding the dole office (Irish and non-national, too; the ridiculous notion that the country is full of scheming, lazy Poles is really starting to slice at my tether).

I saw a job advertised this morning that required a candidate educated to third-level, with three or four years of experience, yet was only paying in the region of “€15-25k a year”. Will they fill the position? Of course they will. They can make the candidates drive for miles, sit there waiting for hours, accept ridiculous conditions, and clap and jump for their pittance. The ball, as it were, is in the employers’ court. It’s probably being shafted for rent.

You know the old saying “pay peanuts, get monkeys”? That’s how the Irish working class (oh, and middle class, too. Welcome home!) is currently defined. A bunch of performing animals, worthy of nothing but the whip.

I know the country is broke. I know that there is no obvious solution, and that our myriad economic problems are complex. But I know that punishing the masses for the sins of the few, asking them to choke down their stale bread and like the taste of it, is not the way to claw back a nation state we can all be proud of, morally as well as financially. Cutting social welfare payments, the minimum wage, our education budget… that is not the answer.

Surely any ape can see that?

While I was writing this, my friend checked back in with an update on his pre-interview interview. He was seen by an unprepared staff member who told him that while they’d advertised a full-time position, it was not, in fact, a full-time position they were offering. A few shifts, is all. They made him drive half an hour for a pre-interview interview for half the position he was prepared to compete for. Because they knew he’d do it.

And he won’t have been the only one, either.


Lisa McInerney is an award-winning Irish blogger who writes for The Antiroom and Culch.ie as well as her own website, lisamcinerney.com.

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Lisa McInerney

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