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The grim reality of job-hunting
Mary and her fiancé John spoke to The Socialist about their experiences of trying to find a decent job in London. Behind the growing youth unemployment figures are huge problems with the type of work that is available.
"How come there is so much support for businesses and not for people? It's true that there are jobs out there but there are also a lot of scams.
Employers say to you that you're not experienced enough or that you don't have enough qualifications and that you've got to do some 'training time' ie up to two weeks working for free. This is what happened to me when I got work taking restaurant bookings over the phone.
Despite the fact that I have events organising experience I was then told that the 'training rate' was two weeks of working for five days and getting paid for three. It was only out of sheer desperation that I stayed on. I expected that I would then get five days pay at the minimum wage rate.
Imagine how sick I felt when my employer explained to me that he had had an intervention from God, who suggested that he pay me the full wage I was due after three months rather than the six months he was thinking of! He told me that there were students who needed experience and were willing to work for him for free and that I should consider myself lucky. I considered myself in need of a new job!
With computer experience I soon got an IT training job with a government-funded initiative. Imagine how I felt when I was asked to work for free for two to three weeks to 'see if I liked it' and to ascertain what rate I should be on! I was then given forty hours a week including a couple of twelve-hour shifts and paid £700 a month, less than the minimum wage. To subsidise this I spent my days off selling bread, phone cards, anything I could do to help make ends meet.
Not having a proper job that I could survive on and the sense that I was being taken advantage of made me feel ashamed. Things got worse and worse. My fiancé was taken on and I was encouraged to try for some qualifications but John wasn't paid and I never got my qualifications. When we tried to demand our pay we were told not to come back. We didn't know our rights, weren't in a union and felt we had no way to defend ourselves.
Suddenly we were desperate. I had been staying with John's family but when we had no money coming in they started to get resentful of us. We were desperately trying to get work but could find nothing meaningful.
John was doing charity collecting but was only getting three days a week work and was only able to bring in £100 a week. You have to pay £40 for the charity collector equipment, work 10am to 6pm outside on your feet, and have to search for places to use the toilet.
Frustrations at home escalated and John's father attacked me and we had to leave. We found ourselves jobless, homeless and desperate. The police said they had no resources to help us. Eventually the Salvation Army helped us out. Since then we have again been looking for work - but there's not much out there.
All the Jobcentres carry Loot magazines but they are full of so-called OTE jobs. These are scams. They offer 'up to £30,000' or some such fantastic sounding opportunity but OTE means it's a commission-based job. It is really hard to make enough money to survive selling expensive bottles of perfume on the streets, let alone to live a decent life. Some of the ads ask you to text for information, and you then get charged extortionately for the texts.
Even the Jobpoint machines in the Jobcentre spit out OTE jobs. One for a 'field sales consultant' promises £47,000 OTE per annum, but then goes on to mention 'a brief period of self employment usually 3 to 4 weeks maximum' when, of course, you are not even subject to the minimum wage.
How many people can last that long without a guaranteed income? Not many. If you do last it you can look forward to 'a basic salary' with 'great commission' if you're lucky."
In The Socialist 1 April 2009:
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis