More and more young people are becoming part of the precariat every day, but they are not aware of it. The alarm of the exploitation of the young labor force is becoming disturbing at various levels as newly graduate and postgraduate students join the labor market and try to contribute to their own and social economic development as well as to secure a decent job as a main source of livelihood. We can’t look only in the unemployment rates to assess the condition of youngsters in the labor market. Young people’s possibilities for progress, as well as the character, the quality and the type of their work, are equally significant. The young individuals are more vulnerable and more exposed to unsecure jobs and contracts, frequently in low wage employment. Why? Because they are not familiar with their rights as workers so they are willing to accept any task, any obligation and responsibility without a blink; they don’t have a choice-structural unemployment forces them to take any job available just to get through the month; young people think that they are indestructible, that they can put themselves under any pressure without thinking of the health consequences because they are driven only by their motive and ambition to be professionally recognized and financially successful.
A.I. is a 25-year-old student from the Republic of Northern Macedonia who has been living in Slovenia for six years. In this interview A.I. talks about the above mentioned aspects, his interests and progress since he started working, his experience as a young person after becoming part of the labor market as well as his working position as a young person.
- Hello, thank you for accepting to be part of this interview. For a start, can you briefly introduce yourself, tell us something more about what you do and whether you are fulfilled and satisfied with your work.
Hi, thank you for inviting me to this conversation. I am student of biochemistry, I have been studying biochemistry for six years. I am now finishing my master studies in the field of structural biology and I have been working through the student service for three years. For the last year and a half I have been working in the field of my education. Am I fulfilled? I would say yes. For the last year and a half, as I said, I work a job related to my profession, I work in biotechnology company, the company is research and development and no day is the same, there is no routine and monotony, it is not an established practice, but each project is different and brings its own challenges that should be overcome and it gives me satisfaction.
- Why did you decide on this field, do you think that what you do, i.e. what you have dedicated your education to, is prosperous?
Since elementary school I started to be interested in it, I was interested in medicine and chemistry, to the smallest level where the human body can be studied, in high school I had a good teacher who transferred her knowledge very well and so I “fell into those waters”. If you ask me if it is prosperous, I think that it is the future of the personalized medicine, the genome of each human to be researched and in the end to have a medicine that will be only for you is something extraordinary, and that is why I think my profession is prosperous. In terms of financial prosperity, I think that if you are happy in what you do you will find a way to survive…but at the end of the day, it is not just about surviving but LIVING.
- What was your experience when you first entered the labor market?
As a worker I am not employed yet, I work through the student service because in Slovenia this is possible. I entered the labor market for the first time in the second year of college, I had no experience, I did not know what I was facing, I just wanted to make money on my own. I was in a big corporate fast food company and it was not a good experience at all, I lasted only five days because there was no organization of work, we were experiencing mobbing by the superiors, mostly new employees, i.e. we THE STUDENTS, we worked overtime, we were not allowed to drink liquids because people from outside i.e. the clients were watching. So I left quickly because I realized that it was not for me.
- Did you get proper training and practice before you started working in your profession?
I got an internship when I worked at the faculty while I was preparing my diploma thesis, I was helping my mentor in some small projects, I had a subject Practical Training offered by the faculty and I was there for 300 hours and because of this I think I entered the current company ready and with a lot of foreknowledge. But however I have many new challenges of course because sometimes what we learn in college is very different from what really happens on the labor market.
- Were you taken seriously as an intern by other employees, especially by your superiors?
As an intern I was taken very seriously, after only 2 weeks my superiors entrusted me with their tasks to be completed because then I was an intern in a clinical center and the workload was large. My superiors paid a lot of attention to me, so far I have not heard a bad experience from an intern.
- Was the financial moment important to you during the internship or you just wanted to gain some basic practical experience in order to be better able to cope in the labor market?
Since it was an elective subject for me, the internship was not paid at all, I only got credit points, but not at a single moment I thought about the financial part because I felt that I could not even ask for it. Here in Slovenia very rarely do students receive paid internships. We all see at as an opportunity to upgrade our CV and learn new methods and skills.
- After entering the labor market, were you familiar with the term precariat, or maybe you came across this term later?
To be honest, this is the first time that I hear this word.
- To continue with the next question first I will explain to you what precariat is. From sociological and economical aspect, the precariat is a social class consisted of individuals who lack job security, who live under wage slavery, financial insecurity, social inequality, who are being under constant exploitation that has a huge impact of their material and mental welfare. So after this short explanation, could you tell what according to your opinion, would mean to be a young precarious worker?
Well, according to this little introduction, from my point of view, I have had situations when I may have been used, but I have not seen it that way until now. For example, when there is a plus job left for the regular employee, and that regular employee who is in charge of that task does not have time to finish it, the boss will tell you to do it because you are new, you are a student with not so many obligations…and you will finish that task no matter what because you don’t want to look weak in front of your boss. When you know that you don’t have a stable employment contract you will do everything to reach it, you will want to finish the job, to show your skills and strength to your boss in the best way you can without refusing a task. So in my opinion, a young precarious worker would be someone who doesn’t think about the consequences of a certain precarious job, but does everything to get some financial, professional and personal satisfaction.
- Now that you are actively involved in the labor market as a young person and student, what would you point out as a negative side and is there anything that you would change in terms of youth work?
On the negative side, I would single out the overtime work, the legislation that you can’t take more than 10 days of annual leave and the financial aspect because in Slovenia the standard is too high and the wages are relatively low compared to Central Europe.
- Do you feel that all your rights in the workplace are satisfied?
At the moment, my rights as a student are satisfied. As a student worker, in my case I think they are fulfilled. Every time I have time for break, for lunch, I have possibility for professional progress and development, because it is a research company there is always a need to stay more than eight hours and those ten or twelve hours are always well paid. As a minus I would point out that there is too little time left to devote to yourself, family and friends and sometimes you can get burnout, but as I said, we are young people who want to succeed in their careers and now is the moment to start working on achieving it.
- What is the scope of the work assignments you receive and do you consider it to correspond to the amount of your salary?
As I said, the volume of the work tasks is enormous, we are a new company in development, new people are being employed frequently, but there is always the need to stay much longer than those standard 8 hours. I often stay on duty, I work on weekends and I get paid four times more than the normal hourly rate.
- As you mentioned, as a student you are exposed to an unstable employment contract, how does that affect you?
Absolutely it has a negative financial effect, I don’t have a paid meal at work, it does exist at some companies, at mine we don’t have it at the moment. I manage for a meal on my own, I cover the travel expenses by myself which are very high considering that I work outside Ljubljana. Because it is a project company, if there is no project those who are resting are the students and the boss tells you: “take a vacation we don’t have any project now”, so we take a vacation (even if we don’t need it) that is not paid. But on the other hand there is the benefit of the free extra time that you sometimes get, for example if I have obligations at the faculty I take my days off without anyone making me a problem.
- How do you think young people can protect themselves from unstable employment contracts?
Honestly, I think it is not possible to protect young people from precarious employment contracts because we are new, just left the educational premises, without any experience, and the law of Slovenia doesn’t allow you to be employed immediately and we, the young people, have accepted this and we are reconciled with the fact that it needs time and effort to get a stable employment, it is something completely normal to us. Maybe one way would be to have some association who would work for everyone, I think not everyone alone is able to provide for themselves for the very beginning. There is always a difference between individuals…surely fifteen individuals in the same profession working on projects, three of them will have ninety percent of the project, the other twelve will be at the lower limit, will have ten percent of the projects and will share them. Why is that? Because it is capitalism. Maybe a socialist idea, but I think it would be good to have an association that will meet the minimum needs in terms of those precarious workers who are out of work for a certain period. If we can’t fully protect ourselves, we can at least try not to allow to be professionally abused, to be more interested in our rights and get legal advises and of course to be educated in that field.
- Do you see yourself as a precarious worker?
So far I haven’t seen myself that way at all, but now that I think deeper on the subject, I can say that yes, I feel like a precarious worker because I think that at least student workers should be introduced to have a mandatory meal at work, mandatory pay rest-at least fifty percent to be covered. If we take all this into account and the fact that this week I am actively working on projects and filling working hours, and next week not, then I should call myself a precarious worker.
- Do you think that students are sufficiently informed and educated to protect themselves from precarious work and exploitation?
We, the students, are far from being informed on this topic, starting from myself, because even today a large number of companies and people with a small number of employees come out on the student services, and even in 2021 it is still paid on hand, money is still waiting for three or four months, even a year. I think there is some regulation of the student service where there is a list of employers who don’t pay and students can see there who isn’t serious, but in any case I think that when the student service knows that someone doesn’t pay regularly, in that case, they shouldn’t allow him to post work announcements and students to apply for that kind of job. I think that this should be resolved legally. Students allow all of this precisely because they are now familiar enough with the consequences of it all.
So far, precarious workers were considered to be those who lacked a certain level of education, those who often change jobs, who are on the margins of society and feel that they have nothing to rely on. But, the student A.I. is proof that both highly educated and well-situated people can consciously or unconsciously become victims of the precariat and that none of us are completely safe once entered the labor market. To this end, investments should be made in educating all workers at all levels on how to protect themselves from any kind of exploitation.
By Evgenija Milenkova