Dignity Through Work Must Mean Dignity in Work

I work in training at a large local employer currently with a moratorium on recruitment of full or part-time staff but, to make up for current chronic shortages, is employing casual agency staff. All of these staff are on short-term zero hour contracts attracting no holiday pay, sick pay or any meaningful staff benefits. They regularly work alongside established staff like me for considerably less pay for the same work.

Working closely with these people I have heard their stories which put the government’s crowing over the fall in unemployment in stark perspective.

All of these agency staff are now officially off the unemployment figures but have no idea for how long and are unable to plan their lives ahead of a couple of weeks.

The young ones tell me of their inability to get mortgages or their reluctance to rent property when they have the prospect of an instant uncompensated lay-off constantly hanging over them. Life with no immediate prospect of leaving home is the common lot of the current generation of twenty-somethings.

Also many of these young people show great aptitude in the various fields my job encompasses. Any number of fields, including management, are completely closed off to agency staff – a chronic waste of talent and potential.

Particularly as they are robbed of the opportunity to even add any experience they could otherwise have picked up to a CV. One of my trainees came to work recently having been diagnosed with tendinitis and given doctor’s orders to take two weeks off work. She came in risking further complications because two weeks without pay would have catastrophic consequences to her finances.

Perhaps the most upsetting aspect of my work is dealing with the older agency staffers men and women who have worked for decades in jobs perhaps not the best but providing career prospects and basic workplace provision lacking in the world of the temp. These men and women – still well below retirement age, usually with families, and often far more skilled and educated than me – are usually the victims of recession or, more cruelly, cuts. Still the main breadwinners in their families, it is common to see a haunted expression in the eyes of particularly the men after years of doing the “right thing” finding their existence so precarious and the worker rights once taken for normal considered unreasonable and greedy.

The government insists the shrinking of the public sector and concomitant job losses and liberalisation of the labour market are essential to economic recovery. So people unable to buy cars or homes, take holidays, care for their health (putting further long-term pressure on the NHS), wasting the potential of clever, enthusiastic or already skilled people is how we escape recession.

I may not be terribly economically literate but this makes no sense to me.

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