Tick, tick, tick...watch the hands move around the face of the clock, the two senior hands watching as the frantic second hand makes its way around the face, down the bottom and up the hill towards the completion of another minute. Another minute. An Irish minute in which another person has just been told she has lost her job.
In a period in which shocking news is nothing new, in which the unbelievable becomes real, in which the previously unmovable institutions are moved, in which all our beliefs are shaken, the news this week that was perhaps the most shocking was not that public servants are woeful and upset, but that last month, a person lost a job in every minute in every hour. Thirty-six thousand people started the month, the year, with a job. Less than 31 days later, that had all changed.
Some 327,000 people are now on the dole in this country. That is 327,000 real people, with families and mortgages and shiny new cars to bring them nowhere, sitting outside the houses they can no longer afford, signing on at a dole office whose location most of them did not even know.
When we hear these figures, like in times of tragedy, the larger they are, the less attached emotionally we are to them. We were less numbed by the 400,000 who died in the tsunami than we were by the 3,000 who died in 9/11. It is only when you look at the deeply personal tragedies in each of these cases that the stark reality fits in. And the job casualties pile up, minute by minute. As we went to press last night, 380 Celestica workers in Galway were meeting to hear their fate. Another job, another minute has passed since you started to read this.
The person who has lost his/her job this minute may have been fearing the worst, dreading the call and when it is made and she is brought into an office and told that her employment will soon be no longer, a sense of shock sets in. She tries to bear up well, but numbed she goes back to her workstation, and shuffles her work tools, the tools with which she really doesn’t have any further connect.
And then, only then does she realise that the hopes and dreams she had, not only for her long term future, but this weekend, next month, the mortgage, the car repayments, the holidays, the family she was either planning or already has, her status among her friends — has all changed. Gone is the certainty that she had.
Suddenly, the one constant in her life — work, has been pulled out from under her. She shares the shock with her work colleagues and then realises that their status has also changed. That they are no longer colleagues. That their paths will divide. Such a range of emotions. Who does she tell first? What does she say? Was it her own fault? Could she have worked harder or were the bosses merely using the recession as an excuse to get rid of a whole bunch? And then anger sets in. And disappointment. And she drives home and wonders why is this all happening to her, and why she didn’t really have a role in its downfall.
Another minute has passed. Another job has gone. I switch on Joe Duffy and all I hear is a public service worker complaining about how she now is so affected by her change of status this week that she is bringing her rubbish to work so that the HSE, her employer, (that’s me and you ) will pay to dump it. Up to now she has been bringing some, but now, she will bring all. She is also upset that the €2.50 three course dinner that she enjoyed has now risen to €3.95.
Another minute. Different men and women. Different realities in a changed country. Different lives. And those who have jobs are thankful just to have them. For however long is left.
Declan Varley [email protected]