Oh we do like to Work beside the Seaside….

…. as long as that work is Part Time, Temporary, Seasonal, and Zero Hours Contracted.

I live with my husband and have 4 sons aged 13-23. Three of the boys still live at home which is Prestatyn, N Wales; a small seaside town of approximately 21,000 which is four miles from our larger neighbour,and one of the most deprived towns in Wales, Rhyl.

This article focuses on my second son, Vincent who (as of January 2013) was a few months short of his 21st birthday. He gained 9 A-C G.C.S.E’s, went to college and then a year in decided A levels were not for him and quit (much to my dismay). He gained work immediately at our local holiday resort, Pontins, and spent a happy 9 months working as a shop assistant on site. He knew the work was zero hours contracted and seasonal, and was duly laid off on January 2nd until the start of March when the season restarted. He signed on for JSA over the winter, but the advisors at the Job Centre did not bother much with him as they knew he would be re-employed for Pontins at the beginning of March.

Although not ideal, he is a young man finding his feet in the world of work and “doing the right thing” by Mr Cameron’s standards – staying at home with his parents, paying us a small bit for his keep, and going out with his friends as young people do. I always have found it ironic that those young people who do find work but live at home with parents are not able to claim any kind of Housing Benefit to help out with the rent payments. Parents are expected to provide a roof over our adult children’s heads. If he had moved out to a shared house he would have been able to claim Housing Benefit as he is on a minimum wage… but those are the rules. Even low income parents such as ourselves foot the rent bill with a small contribution from our adult children.

How delighted was Vincent when a vacancy occurred within Pontins for a Warehouse Supervisor last May in time for his 20th birthday. He applied, and even though several senior HR bosses had their doubts due to his age, he was given the job and they duly decided to pay him the adult 21+ minimum wage for the job. In September 2012, Pontins advised they were refurbishing over the winter and all staff would be laid off from November to March 2013. There was no recourse as Seasonal, Zero Contract, Employees have no recourse and so it was back on JSA. Initially he found 4 weeks work in a local Cheese Factory on a Production Line, but this work again was Seasonal and Temporary. Interestingly only 3 workers on the production line were British, the rest were Polish. He became friendly with some of the Poles who literally move from factory to factory, from temporary work to temporary work in order to eek out a living. But this is only possible with a driving license, as the factories can be anything over a 50 mile radius of rural North Wales.

Vincent agrees it is a plus that instead of phoning for an appointment with a Job Centre advisor, he is able to make an initial claim and appointment online. The Job Centre then calls you within 3 days to agree an appointment date. However, he acknowledges that for anyone without easy access to a computer, a phone option should also still be widely available so people have the choice of contact.

At his first outing to the Job Centre which is located in Rhyl, 4 miles away and at a cost of £3.10 on the train (bus prices are exceedingly high in N Wales and the train is the least expensive public transport option) Vincent arrived armed with his CV and details of jobs he was already applying for. Quite rightly so, the Job Centre advisors do actually try to put effort into finding work for 16-24 year olds. Once various forms had been filled in, the advisor asked Vincent about whether he knew the shop websites to look at when applying for the new jobs that were coming up on Prestatyn’s new retail park in March. A narrative of the conversation below:

V : Yes, I have already applied to Tesco, Next and River Island
Advisor: I can send you the email links to their websites.
V: No, it’s okay, thanks – as I already have the website addresses as I had to apply for the jobs on the shops own websites
Advisor : But it’s probably better I send you the website links anyway
V: But I already have them as I have already applied
Advisor: But it’s my job to send them to you anyway and the computer is advising me to send them to you
V: They won’t be any use to me because I know them! ( getting a bit hot under the collar now!)
Advisor : Well I’ll email them anyway.
V: Okay, if it makes the Job Centre happy, but it’s a complete waste of time!

He was also asked to go to a workshop to make a CV. Vincent showed the advisor his CV that he has added to and updated over the past 3 years. He was told it was no use as it “isn’t one of the Job Centre Template CV’s”. When Vincent again said it was wasting his time to make a new Job Centre templated CV when he had a perfectly good CV, he was told that if he DID NOT change to the Job Centre template he may have his JSA stopped! He was also advised to log on to Universal Jobmatch, the Governments new JobSearch website 3 times a week. Vincent told the advisor he logs in Twice A DAY, as job vacancies are updated sometimes hourly as they become available. For example, a 7 hours per week Boots job was advertised at 10am one day. Boots had so many applicants the job was taken down at 4pm the same day.

Vincent said the whole Job Centre experience is a “tick box” culture. The staff are not trained to get people into work but to come up with obstacles to stop them. He told me of a Job Centre where the assumption is that all 16-24 year olds are barely literate and need workshops to get them to a level to be able to even apply for jobs. He said that while many young people his age may need the extra help, there should not be a “one size fits all” mentality, and those that are able should be assessed accordingly. A disturbing fact is that the Job Centre (and bare in mind Rhyl is a small coastal town) employs Security Guards on the door. Various clients get frustrated at the length of time it takes to process JSA claims, or feel they are not being treated fairly and so “disturbances” break out with regular occurrence; enough for there to be no fewer than 4 Security Guards on the door. I can only wonder how many guards are employed in big cities!

Since this first interview, he has signed on for the past two months and applied for over 40 jobs that with no exception have been either Part Time, Temporary, Seasonal or Zero Contracted or a combination of them all! No success yet, but he is still very positive. The surprise I found was that when the retail park positions came online from Tesco, Next and Marks and Spencer’s they were 95% part time positions and zero contracted. Only a Bakers Job and a couple of positions at River Island were full time.

How have Full Time Jobs been eroded to this degree? Many of the writers and authors of more loftier stats based articles will answer this, but how are young men in particular supposed to “get qualifications, stay at home and study, save for a flat” in Mr Cameron’s words and find their way in the world on part time, temporary, unsecure work?

The UNSECURE employment, the feeling that work may last only 6-12 months, that it is Part Time, does not give the young generation anything to put down roots or give them an incentive to save for a better future. In Prestatyn N Wales, a tiny town with a very low density of business, the unemployment stats for U25 yr old males are 6% while this rises to 22.9% in Rhyl West, our neighbours. The answer is to move away to the bigger cities in England across the border – to Chester, Manchester and Liverpool – but these have their own unemployment problems.

While the Coalition Government continues to erode workers rights and terms of employment, part time, temporary work will continue and become the norm. The Labour Party must be bold, cast off its “red shroud” of running scared of being tagged as pro – Unions, and start talking openly to employers and finding a path for The Living Wage being rolled out nationally, negotiating more rights for workers in Seasonal Work, with the right to be re-employed automatically after a set period of time, and most importantly urging employers to make vacant positions Full Time. The Labour Party themselves were somewhat complicit in allowing firms to themselves see the benefits of employing Part Time Workers, and seeing Full Timers as a millstone for their companies. This has to change or we will have a young generation living with parents for lengthier periods with the only incentive to move out, a costly privately rented flat/house they can never own.

Vincent continues to remain positive, upbeat and truly believes it will only be a short time until he is back into the world of work. Indeed he has 2 interviews coming up for a Teaching Assistants post and a Shop Staff post. He is also thinking of trying “Camp America” as he has considerable experience of looking after his autistic brother and would like to work with children with special needs. He is not in anyway, shape or form “A Shirker”.. Just a lad doing the right thing who wants to once again become “A Worker”.

Change in employment rights and the availability of Full Time Work has to be tackled now!

Bernadette Horton writes in a personal capacity and blogs at: http://mumvausterity.blogspot.co.uk/
(Follow her on Twitter: @PinkWaferBelle)

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