Alicja Bobek: Hospitality has always been an important part of the Irish economy. As the labour market recovers from the recent recession, jobs are growing in the accommodation and food services sector around the country. By the second quarter of 2015 there was a total of 136,700 people working in this sector, 20,000 more than at the lowest point in 2011. While this job creation is obviously to be welcomed, there is a question about the quality of these jobs.
Research by TASC shows how across the country many jobs in hospitality are badly paid compared to jobs in other sectors. For example, in 2013 16.7% of all employees in the Accommodation and Food Services sector only earned the national minimum hourly wage of 8.65 Euros.
Recently there have been proposals for a national Living Wage of €11.50 per hour. Many people in the hospitality sector are on an hourly rate well below this. Not only are the hourly rates low in this sector, but so too are the weekly hours. More and more jobs in places like bars, hotels and restaurants are based on part-time or flexible contracts. Such jobs may suit some categories of people who seek additional income rather than a full time job. However, many people in these jobs would like to get more hours, but are not offered them by their employers.
It seems that instead of having full-time regular employees on permanent contracts, many employers prefer to have a pool of part-time, flexible staff available to them whenever they are needed. People are also often given their hours on a weekly basis, depending on the demands of the business. This results in a situation where individuals cannot predict their monthly income.
In addition, as they are expected to be ‘flexible’, many of them cannot earn more money by taking on additional employment somewhere else. Indeed, many of those who can be described as ‘full-time’ are actually working less than the standard 39 hour week. This results in a situation where an individual’s weekly wages are lower than might be expected on the basis of their hourly rate.
Health and safety is also often overlooked in this sector. Despite being classified as ‘services’, many jobs in the hospitality sector are physically demanding. In other sectors, especially in construction, physical work is usually recognised and thus financially rewarded. This is not the case in the hospitality sector, particularly for those working in the accommodation departments of many hotels in Ireland. Room cleaning is hard physical work especially when it involves turning mattresses.
Back injuries are common, especially because hotels are putting on pressure to increase the number of rooms cleaned per shift. Indeed one manager in a large hotel told researchers: ‘I think it’s coming down to health and safety at this stage, where people are actually doing damage to themselves in regards to their backs’.
We all would like to enjoy the comfortable beds offered by Irish hotels, but we often do not realise that they have to be regularly turned by a low-paid worker.
Finally, there is a question of career prospects and training in the sector. Historically speaking, there were clear career paths available for some occupations in the Irish hospitality sector. However, the casualisation that has occurred over the last two decades has flattened the occupational and promotional structure. Professional training is also not available for many employed in this sector.
Some will move on as time goes by but if they don’t, they are under a risk of getting ‘stuck’ at the bottom. While there are some managerial positions in the hospitality sector, they often no longer come with high wages. Promotion means more duties and higher responsibilities, but not much extra pay.
The casualisation of work in the Irish hospitality sector started before the economic downturn, but the financial crisis led to a further deterioration of job quality. Many workers were made redundant, while those who stayed employed experienced pay cuts and targets that are constantly being raised.
At the bottom of the recession, people across Ireland were told they should be ‘happy to have a job’. As we see signs of recovery, we should really also talk about the working conditions that come with these new jobs. People should not only be ‘happy to have a job’, but also be happy at work. If they are not, then some of the new jobs will simply not be worth having.
Dr. Alicja Bobek, Researcher, TASC Working Conditions in Ireland Project
Alicja Bobek has a PhD in Sociology from Trinity College Dublin, an MA in Sociology and an MA in Migration and Ethnic Studies from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. She previously worked as a teaching and research fellow in the Department of Sociology, Trinity College where she was involved in projects related to migration, workplace and social integration.
She is the co-author of Enforced Flexibility? Working in Ireland Today and is a contributor to Dublin Inquirer.