In a black and white picture, taken from the ‘Journal’ archives of September 1975, a young Liam Gallagher is pictured erecting a sign to protest at the unemployment figures in Derry at the time.
Generally, snapshots from the past offer a chance to look at how far we’ve come, but this image, according to Liam, only highlights that when it comes to numbers, little has changed with the numbers signing on here in Derry.
With all this taking place against a backdrop of celebration during Derry’s year as City of Culture, Liam says he conscious that people may not want the less positive headlines mentioned. But as a Derry man, born and bred, while he’s delighted at the progress being made in his home town, in his official role as chairman of Unite the Union and his ‘day job’ at the North West Regional College training centre at Springtown, he’s seeing more and more people of working age being given less and less opportunities.
The rate of claimants of jobseekers’ allowance here in Derry in the 18-24 age group is 16 per cent, much higher than in other parts of the North.
Other young people, many of them overqualified, are working in low paid, zero contract jobs.
Key to the change in both these situations is a young population who are more vocal, says Liam.
“Obviously in Derry in the 60s and 70s we had a generation who were radicalised pretty quickly, because they had to be,” he says.
“That was against a backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and we were producing a generation who had to get out there and fight for the most very basic of entitlements. I think now we’re seeing a certain apathy on behalf of the generation who are affected by youth unemployment and a lack of workers’ rights. It’s vital that we get people out on the streets protesting at issues like unemployment and more recently the worrying growth in ‘zero contract hours.”
The notion of ‘zero contract hours is one which Liam says needs to be tackled head on with employers.
“We’re seeing situations where people are working in jobs with no contracts, no guarantees in terms of working hours, salary, sickness pay, holiday entitlement or anything else and lots of our young people who are very well qualified are working in jobs like this because they feel that they have no other option. This is a massive workers’ rights issue and our call, without a doubt is for people to get unionised.
“Often, people come to us for representation when it’s too late, usually about a disciplinary matter and in serious cases around unfair dismissal. That person would have to have been a union member for 13 weeks before we can step in so our message is 100 per cent clear. Sign up. Get unionised because it’s only as a collective that we can tackle the scourge of things like ‘zero contract’ jobs. We’re constantly contacted by people who are too scared to complain about working conditions and that is unacceptable.”
Those unable to find any kind of work who are dependent on the increasingly threatened welfare state are living in the most precarious position of all. Conceding that Derry’s golden era as a hub of manufacturing has been consigned to the history books, Liam says, an over willingness today to accept low paid work in the city and a lack of support for small and medium businesses as well as restrictions in terms of public procurement - the method by which firms tender for major public sector developments - are suffocating hopes of a major economic recovery here.
“We’ve got to attract higher quality jobs here and we’ve got to give more support to local, indigenous businesses. It’s also made very difficult for small, local construction firms to tender for bigger public procurement jobs. These are jobs which would create significant local employment and many of them are given to companies outside of the North.”
Whether fighting for workers’ rights, or trying to reduce unemployment in Derry, Liam’s sure of one thing.
“We need to stand together as a city, and particularly our younger population, to make our voices heard about what’s happening here and make a stand for future generations.”