Pub work for a pittance: why are the young worth less?

From secondary school to university, I have had a fair few friends for whom part-time or summer jobs have been a regular occurrence. It seems to me that this extra work alongside a degree is more important now than ever, due to the recent news that maintenance grants will be scrapped for the 2016 university cohort. This summer I’ve had the good fortune of working with some fantastic people at a local pub. Though the people may be great, the pay is near panic-inducing. The National Minimum Wage for an 18-20 year old is a mere £5.13—that’s £1.37 less an hour than 21s and over (as of 2015 the minimum wage for people age 21 and over is £6.50). Working around five shifts a week, I have managed to make enough money to cover my rent in Norwich from July-September, so it’s left me feeling pretty deflated and substantially out of pocket. All this work over the summer hasn’t even left me with enough spare cash to negate some of that maintenance loan come September.

People have always taken pub jobs and I’m sure that none of them have expected to be paid through the low-ceilinged country pub roof. As people in their 50s have told me “it was the same when we were at university”— though this sends alarm bells running through my head and a tingling up my spine rather than resonating reassurance. The difference is that there were no tuition fees in those days and students could receive a full grant to cover a large chunk of their living expenses. I work now to feel as though I’m in some-way combating £14K of debt a year. I know that “we’ll probably never pay it off” but it still feels like a lead weight attached to my chest, knowing that I’ll be entering the working world with £30,000+ of debt to my name.

I have heard the argument that young people must be paid less so that they are attractive to employers who see young people as lacking experience. That may be true for your first ever job which many of my friends started when they were 15 or 16 years old but by the age of 20 that argument flat-lines. If you are doing the same job as someone over 20 with the same responsibility and similar hours, and if you’re doing your job as good as or indeed better than someone aged 21 or over, then you should be paid the same… if not more! To pay someone less, for doing the same job, just because they are younger is clear discrimination that needs to be addressed.

There is also the side that proclaims it is the business’ responsibility and has nothing to do with the government. If you have a problem with your pay, then ask your employer for a raise or find a new job. This would be a lovely solution if our society had an endless stream of jobs to go to, but we aren’t living in an idealised world of the Famous Five generation. Many young people don’t speak up because they are frightened could jeopardise their position at work and leave them jobless altogether.

It also must rest partly on the government since they are the ones setting tuition fees and scrapping maintenance grants that adversely affects the young and their education, they are the ones cutting housing benefits for 18-22 year olds, making it harder to find a decent house. They are the ones proposing a living wage that ignores, undervalues and discriminates against under 25s, leaving us spiraling further into debt to keep up with basic living standards. To all those who believe that the young do not hold as much responsibility as the older generations, I hope you’re sitting comfortably with your triple locked pensions or your promises of living wages. The young abandoned by this country; we are fast becoming second rate citizens, and with the recent knowledge printed in the “i” this week that 59% of graduates are in non-graduate roles, forgive us for feeling angry for viewing three years of debt, hard work and stress as a complete waste of our time.

I accept that pub work can be viewed as a low-skilled job, meaning that without qualifications you could be trained to do it, though I would argue that just because it’s low-skilled, that does not mean that it is easy. The staff are incredibly kind, hardworking and make me feel valued. Many of the customers are of a similar vein, though many are not. One of the hardest things to do is dealing with the customers who hold very extreme views about certain topics and are expected to be treated as though they are above others.

If customers and employers want staff in the hospitality sector that can pretend to be friendly towards the rude and ignorant in our society, that can work at lightning speed and to look after 20 customers at once, who are able to drop everything to work a shift at last minute, then they must start respecting us as equals, and reflect this in our equal pay.

Contrary to how this may read, working at a pub has been my favourite of five jobs to date. An elderly couple last night were supporting me as I rushed about the place with food orders, scribbled notepads and dirty plates. They were patient and polite and above all a joy to serve. I’m sure most of us expect hard work when we start a summer job, or most part-time work for that matter.

What we also need to expect is for each person’s hard work to be reflected in equal and fair pay, regardless of a person’s age: if you do the same job, then surely you should be paid the same hourly rate


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September 2021
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