Whenever I’ve been unfortunate enough to have to do business with the dole office, to try to access payments I’m legally entitled to, I’ve had a bit of bother, as Frank Spencer would say. He wasn’t as good in the skills department as me, I imagine, and his CV wouldn’t have extended to one page, let alone the two and a half that the dour-faced and depressing-to-look-at pen pusher behind the interview desk frowned on, as being far too much longer than the one page she thought a tech job CV should be. She shared her top tip, keep it to under one page, when casting a look that could turn clients to stone, first at me, then my CV, which she handled as though COVID-19 was already here, last time I was called for a “Job Activation” interview. Never mind that I had taught CV preparation myself, as part of my work, before, or had done a top-up module in CV skills, on a digital media journalism Diploma course. No. She knew best, Ms. dole office, or at least hoped I thought she did, as she struck me as a lot more grim-faced after she’d seen my CV, which I imagine had a lot more qualifications listed than hers would have (not that she would need to be producing hers for some sour wagon at a pointless dole interview, since she already had her pen-pushing gig) . It didn’t get me a job of course. In my mid fifties, in a job market dominated by imported workers from EU agencies, and a gap in my CV showing I was unemployed, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I’d even applied for jobs overseas, ‘though I baulked at the few that were advertised that I had some chance of getting, teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia and China. Nah. I thought. I’d just shake some guy’s hand the first week, and it’d be downhill quite quickly from there. Even three hots and a cot wouldn’t be guaranteed, either, I’m thinking, in those sorts of regimes.
Mind you, our regime isn’t much better, if they insist you hike it out to attend a going nowhere that results in a job session, in the middle of a COVID-19 lockdown. I had already been getting letters every couple of weeks from them, to attend meetings cited over 50kms away, with no public transport route to get me there. I don’t drive, of course. I’m unemployed, and was a zero-contract dispos-a-worker type, when I was getting the crumbs of work left over from what the foreign agency workers hadn’t time for. I was the first to go, and last to be respected, as many Irish employers seem to prefer agency workers, who provide the quick turnover needed, to Irish employees, who, let’s face it, answer back, ‘cos they speak English. They might also have a super CV, which could put you to shame if you hired them, and make you look like the complete thicko that you are, just there because you slept with the boss, and know where the tax money is hidden, or maybe your actual daddy’s the boss. Small companies like to keep things in the family, while larger ones like to keep things as impersonal as possible, preferably by not having anyone Irish working there at all. Hence the bewilderment of visitors to Irish shores who wonder why there are no Irish staff in hotels or restaurants. They’re probably busy completing a series of Job Activation interviews, for jobs they have no hope of getting, in which they are berated by being told they are just not trying hard enough to get one of those jobs there are so many of, according to the massaged figures, which count the various work schemes the state runs as employment.
I’ve been shoved onto those as well, and if I don’t get a job, can be expected to bounce about from one type of work scheme to another, until I am an old age pensioner, as although each type has a maximum timelimit, it’s easy to get around that by having lots of differently named ones. Usually, they involve picking up litter, sweeping roads, or freezing your behind off in the rain in a range of ways that seem designed to destroy the individuals dignity, and health, but keep an army of supervisors on a good wage, while the person on the scheme gets none of the training in skills suitable to their existing skills, which the schemes promise in the small print, nor the training grant that they are entitled too either. I know. I’ve asked, as I figured learning to drive might increase my ability to get work, but my question was brushed under the carpet, as I almost was too, when they put me on a scheme which said it was an office job, and turned out to be a janitor’s job. I had to go home that first day, to change out of smart office clothes into my oldest jeans, as no work wear was provided. I refused to go up on a roof to clean a gutter on that job, and kicked up a stink, arguing that I had never worked in the janitorial arena, so had no existing skills there I wished to build on. My teaching and digital media qualifications, as well as my rather super, if I don’t mind saying so myself, communications skills, persuaded them to get me off the roof, and into an office, to teach web design. I learned nothing, and had few students, but it’s about keeping the little gulag going, as this cheap labour helps provide services for councils, and keep the unemployment figures looking healthier than they really are.
I find I have to remind dole office workers, and the companies they liase with, of Irish law, regularly, as they have broken their own department’s rules several times already with me, e.g. insisting I work on a scheme while already having a real job . Now it seems, they’d like to again push the boat out, by ignoring Leo Varadkar, who’s going hoarse telling everyone to just stay at home, to observe the COVID-19 restrictions. The foreign contract workers must think we Irish are stupid, for paying them €350 for 12 weeks, to sit at home during the crisis, so the company they worked for will hire them back whenever the crisis is over, while the people like me, who were made unemployed before the virus sent the country into lockdown, get the old rate of jobseeker’s benefit, and told to risk infecting people by traveling to even-more-pointless-than-usual job activation interviews, for what, exactly? To work on a CV again (oooo, maybe we could shorten it even more, and leave out those three qualifications), and be asked why I think I haven’t gotten any replies this week from employers, I suppose. Em, because we’re on a feckin’ lockdown, you complete idiot.
Update: I discovered I shouldn’t have been asked to do JobPath at all, since I haven’t been unemployed for 12 months yet. They started insisting I go to JobPath interviews, however, as soon as I signed on as full-time unemployed. They’ve tried illegal things on me before, like insisting I do a community employment scheme when I was employed; those schemes are also only for those unemployed, for over 12 months. One finds oneself having to do battle with these dishonest people, just to get one’s legal rights upheld, as they will insist black is white, even as you show them their own rules, off goverment websites. Perhaps the fact that there is a lot of money involved in the schemes is a factor in their stubborn hostility towards unemployed people, but it’s certainly made difficult for unemployed people to access the payments they are entitled to, without having to put up quite a fight for them.