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Opinion Young people should not have to get used to precarious employment

Too many young people are not only struggling to find work, but work that gives them a decent salary and quality of life, writes James Doorley.

ON THE DAY of his election An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke about creating a “republic of opportunity”. Although an admirable vision for the country, we have a long way to go to make such noble ambitions a reality, particularly for young people struggling to find decent employment.

A decade on from the economic crisis Ireland is a different country. The recession left scars on all our citizens, impacted as they were by unemployment, debt, cuts in income supports and the withdrawal of social services, and young people were hit harder than most.

Growth in precarious employment

It is welcome that youth unemployment has declined from 31% in 2012 to 15% today and more young people are at work. However in the last decade, major changes have taken place in the labour market, with significant growth in precarious employment. This trend impacts in particular on young people.

Many young workers are having the traditional entry into well-paid and secure employment elongated and frustrated by low pay, temporary employment, and by the so-called “if and when contracts”, where there are no guaranteed hours of work and equally importantly no certainty in your weekly pay packet.

A significant proportion of young people working in post-crash Ireland are in precarious employment, which brings with it financial uncertainty and impacts on personal and family life, and on health and well-being. A survey by Red C published by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), shows that almost half of people aged 18 to 29 in Ireland are on non-standard contracts, and more than one third are on temporary contracts and in part-time work.

Precarity even at age 29

The increased prevalence of these “if and when” and other non-standard contracts are having wide ranging impacts on the family, social and educational opportunities of young people. The Red C survey for NYCI found that almost two-thirds agreed that such contracts make it difficult to plan personal and family life.

Such contracts also inhibit upskilling as workers cannot commit to attending a weekly course. Likewise, how are young people meant to plan for their future when they are not even in a position to take out a personal loan?

The data shows that younger people under 25 that are recent entrants to the labour market are more likely to be on a temporary contract. However, even among the 25 to 29 year old age cohort over a third are on temporary contracts, meaning that this is a situation affecting all young people right up the age ranges. They are living with precarious work aged 29 and beyond.

Legislation welcome but more needed

An Taoiseach announced recently that the government would prioritise new laws restricting “if and when” contracts. This is to be welcomed but legislation alone will not be enough to address the issue.

The NYCI is calling on the government to provide a comprehensive strategy to tackle low quality and precarious work.

Rural and class dimension

Any such strategy would need to combat the rural and class divides emerging from the data: precarious employment is more prevalent among young people from lower socioeconomic groups, with only one third of working-class respondents saying that they have regular full-time hours. While precarious employment is an issue in Dublin, the Red C research found that it was more prevalent outside Dublin.

Too many young people are not only struggling to find work, but work that gives them a decent salary and quality of life. The government must prioritise tackling low pay, temporary employment and “if and when contracts” to help lift this generation out of a state of insecurity and give real meaning to the promise of a “republic of opportunity”.

James Doorley is Deputy Director at the National Youth Council of Ireland, which represents youth organisations working with over 380,000 young people. The “Republic of Opportunity or State of Insecurity?” event took place in Dublin yesterday 23 October and brings together think tanks, academia, the trade union movement, labour market specialists and the youth sector to explore precarious employment and work quality.

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