Young Derry workers on £4.62 an hour ‘feel exploited’

Two young hospitality workers who earned less than £5 an hour have spoken of how young people on ‘poverty pay’ are ending up at foodbanks.

At a special meeting elected members of Derry City & Strabane District Council heard from young workers from the hospitality and retail sectors who earn just £4.62 an hour.

The special council meeting was called to discuss the findings of the Derry Trade Unions Council Local Workers Survey.

A young worker from the hospitality sector presented her experiences to councillors.

She said: “I want to say the evidence I am presenting is not in relation to my current job but a similar job which I previously had. Working within the hospitality and tourism sector I was paid £4.62 an hour with no sick pay protections and no holiday pay. I am employed on a zero hours contract with no guaranteed hours. I have been sent home early from work by my boss if the shift is quiet so even though I have been offered an eight-hour shift I have only got paid for five or six hours.”

She added: “My friends and I want a future that is full of hope but our experiences of local work have been a cold reality check of the struggles of working people.”

A retail sector employee had similar experiences to the other speaker in previous jobs leaving her feeling ‘unvalued’. Speaking about how pay of £4.62 an hour left her and her friends ‘demoralised’ she said: “I have to get taxis to and from work which is a round trip fare of £14. It takes me three hours at work to pay for my travel to and from work with my shifts being on average between seven and nine hours long.”

Stating that young workers feel ‘exploited’ she added: “Families in Derry are struggling, working people are suffering and the young people of Derry need help.  We need a pay rise, we feel we are worth more than £4.62 an hour, why can we not earn the top minimum wage of £8.91, we work just as hard as someone aged 22?”

The Workers Survey had 368 responses. 69.2% were women, 30.2% men and 0.6% transgender. Of those surveyed, 25% work in the hospitality/tourism sector, 22% in retail, 12% in health, 9% in the community and voluntary, 7% in education with the remainder scattered amongst the private sectors and other areas. When asked, ‘does your employer pay sick pay?’ 67% replied no, they have to rely on Statutory Sick Pay. 73% said they struggled to pay their bills with 25% forced to use food banks.

A community sector worker said the findings were ‘alarming’.“The survey questions around Covid 19 are particularly concerning,” she said. “When surveyed 67% of workers did not have company sick pay, half of 368 workers who responded said they did not feel safe going to work and 25% said they could not self isolate and 65% saying they couldn’t afford to. Covid 19 has significantly impacted the community and voluntary sector where workers have worked tirelessly to support the emergency response to Covid 19 and provide care and support to some of the most vulnerable people in society, within supported living, care facilities, homeless projects, the homeless sector and community groups.”

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly asked what council could do with both those who spoke earlier calling for a report into the pay rate in the city and district and a parity of pay with older colleagues carrying out the same work.

DTUC Chairman McCarroll said some people in the local business sector were “doing really well in an area that has a lot of deprivation and neglect from various governments”. “It can’t be the case that Derry progresses on the back of local workers getting just over £4 an hour, no sickness benefits and no guaranteed hours,” he urged.

DTUC said hospitality venues and other service outlets should have their pay rates listed on their menus and front door. “If I knew employees in a particular cafe or restaurant were getting paid £10 an hour that’s where I would want to spend my money.”

People Before Profit Colr. Shaun Harkin said: “I think it is a disgrace that anyone in this city is getting paid less than £5 an hour and I don’t care what age they are. 73% of people struggle to pay their bills, that is shocking and it should shock the council into action on behalf of the workers in this district and the least well off.”

Colr. Harkin made a proposal that ‘Council should initiate some research into pay scales across the hospitality sector, the retail sector and the community sector.’

The Mayor, Alderman Graham Warke agreed to hear the motion at the next full council meeting on March 31.

By Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter