Thursday 18 June 2020


The best lack all compassion, while the worst 
 Are full of passionate bitchery.
WB Not-Yeats
The day after the Bon Appétit systemic racism story broke I was physically in The Institute zoomin' [and zonin' out] on an interminable meeting. Because I was multi-tasking on company time, I was able to field a txt and an e-mail requesting a meeting from an ex-Student; let's call him Vishnu because that's not his name. I looked at the day's schedule and replied that I'd meet him at the Bridge across the River at 1300 precisely. I couldn't buy him cake and coffee like the last time he needed some bracing; but we could and did go for a walk in the drizzle up the river to watch the swans thrashing about. In February V had been in the dumps because he couldn't get a positive response from his many job-applications. Actually, in most cases he didn't get any response let alone a positive one.

That would be par for the course. A few years ago, I canvassed my final year project students to see who had sorted out their 12 week work-placement. In the InstTech sector, this work-experience is a post-requisite for graduating. That year it turned out to be a completely black & white issue: all the Old Irish kids were sorted but none of the New Irish had found a billet. You just knew that part of the problem is that a CV from Amanda O'Keeffe was more like to get a reading than one from Adefolahan Olajumoke. There wasn't much I could do for V, because I don't have a nephew who runs a paint-factory, neither do I have favours to call in from biotech companies. But I did feed him up a little, and not just with cake.

But by the beginning of March he'd gotten a job as a Pharmacy Technician PT in one of the South Dublin suburbs. That's a step down because, in Tamil Nadu, V is a fully qualified Pharmacist with several years experience in the trade. But €15/hr is bankable money [and more than he'd be getting for a more prestigious job back home] and he could make a case that by starting at the bottom, he was getting experience in the sector in this country. I was delighted for him, because by opting to get work in the not-quite-front-line at the start of the pandemic, he'd be accumulating bonus points towards any future application for residency here in Ireland. It was a bummer that the work was a long way from home and would involve a long daily commute; but mostly it was going forward.

Shortly after he started he'd gotten 'flu-like-symptoms and his line manager had required him to a) self-isolate for 2 weeks b) get a bed nearer to work that didn't involve so much public transport. Well he did both of those and was sitting pretty getting experience and a [barely] living wage. He even managed to get a ♀al of his a half-time job in the same pharmacy. But as soon as he came back from  unpaid sick-leave, he was bullied into signing a contract for a years employment at 32-40 hours / week. Ever since he's been working on exactly 32 hrs/wk and having to keep up his share of the rent with his mates in Carlow as well as paying for his digs in South Dublin. And he's feeling shunned by his work-mates who chatter away about fripperies and TV and make no effort to include him in this phatic exchange. It's heart-breaking to see this confident, qualified, kind and fundamentally happy young man tuning into his depressive side.

But his compassion was all directed at his friend from TamilNadu. Let's call her Hattie? She is really getting the bum's rush. There is high staff turn-over in the shop [and no wonder?] so she is getting some seniority but if there's a shitty bit of cleaning to do, or a super tedious task in inventory, guess who draws the short straw??  Like a lot a businesses, the pharmacy is trying to go on-line and the owner lined up all the staff outside the shop for a group photo; guess which invisible employee got to take the photo??
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears 
Bury the rag deep in your face For now’s the time for your tears

It doesn't have to be like that! Before I went to Graduate school in Boston, I went to the Netherlands to work-and-save for my first semester's fees. By great good fortune, acknowledging that we make our own luck, I landed a laboring job in the fish department of  Blijdorp zoo in Rotterdam.  Although I was a foreigner with a rudimentary knowledge of the local language and so couldn't understand a fraction of the coffee-break gossip, m'n makkers made me a fully paid up member of the team.  And I mean fully paid up! If there was over-time to be had (and there was) then I got my share of it. If there was a bucket of coinage mixed with shitty water when they cleaned out the crocodile pit (and there was) then I got all of it.  The idea that I'd be left out of the group photo or the birthday beers was just unthinkable.

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