Workers Solidarity reporter Joe King spent a couple of hours each month up to last Christmas tracking down the bosses who pay a pittance. Giving himself a good Leaving Certificate, some shop and restaurant experience and a false name he set about answering advertisements, phoning personnel officers and going to interviews. He did his job hunting in Dublin. The story in other cities and towns is, if anything, even worse.
"I set out in July not sure what I would find. There certainly seemed to be a lot more jobs around. Maybe there was something to be said for the Celtic Tiger. The summer months are usually the toughest time to find work, all those school leavers and students added to the unemployed makes it a lot more competitive. But last summer there definitely was more demand for staff in shops, restaurants, and bars.
"My first port of call was the Stephen's Hall Hotel who wanted a porter. £3.00 an hour the woman said, maybe £3.50 after a few weeks. Next was the Irish Celtic Craft Shop on Lord Edward Street. Expensive goods, lots of wealthy tourist business. This would have to be better. £25.00 a day. That's £3.12 an hour. Things are looking up.
The Chocolate Bar in the POD night club wanted a lunchtime waiter for the princely sum of £3.00 an hour. The Garden Restaurant in Tallaght's Square Shopping Centre advertised for a kitchen cleaner. Got them on the phone. £3.50 an hour and a free meal when on duty. Next I spotted an advert for a waiter in the Mahogany Gaspipes restaurant. This is a dear eatery. They would surely be paying a bit more. Yeah, right! £2.00 an hour but I might get some tips.
The Phibsboro Service Station on the North Circular Road needed a night cashier. That paid £4.05 an hour. Noonan Cleaning were taking on office cleaners. I phoned up, it would be early mornings or early evenings and paid £3.91 an hour plus a 70p daily travel allowance. I phoned a few other contract cleaners. They all paid exactly the same rate. So much for competition and the free market!
A music school, Walton's, in South Great Georges Street wanted an evening receptionist. £2.50 an hour. Sorry, said I, did I hear that properly? No mistake, £2.50 an hour but I could have a discount on lessons or hiring rehearsal space. Hooray! Anything had to be better ...or did it? Park House, near Heuston Station, had need for a night porter. £2.08 an hour for a 12 hour shift.
Time to try some bigger employers. The Mont Clare Hotel wanted lots of waiters. £4.00 an hour. I later learned that boss Noel O'Callaghan is not short of cash, having made at least one sizable donation to Mary Harney's PDs. Onto Brown Thomas in Grafton Street. Sent in my application to be a shop assistant. If I got the job, I was told, the pay would be £3.63 an hour.
Oh well, try some of the other big stores. They can't all be paying wages so low. And I was right. The one other store which was advertising, Roches Stores, did pay more. 2p an hour more, to bring their rate up to £3.65 an hour. A few weeks later I saw that Brown Thomas had increased their rate, all the way up to £3.65 an hour.
Envy Menswear were opening a shop. £3.50 an hour but it could rise to £4.00 if I had sufficient experience. Experience of what? Surviving on air? Argus Security wanted extra staff to mind 24-hour shops, watching out for drunks, dippers and downright dangerous characters. How much? £4.00 an hour. One more try before giving up. Bewley's advertised for catering assistants in their Mary Street restaurant. £3.33 an hour.
Out of wages like these we are supposed to pay rent or a mortgage, buy food and clothes, maybe raise a child or two, have an occasional holiday, put some money aside for emergencies, pay bus fares, have a few drinks at the weekend, pay for the TV licence, etc. etc. I don't know how anyone manages on poverty wages like these, I have enough trouble just getting by and I'm on £16,000 a year. I do know I'll be on any demonstrations in support of a minimum wage."