How precarious work can affect your mental and physical health

Precarious work, identified as part-time work with variable hours, so-called “if-and-when” contracts, temporary work, and solo-self employment (also known as “bogus self-employment”) is increasing across the labour force, according to the report , Living With Uncertainty.

It is now widespread in healthcare, education, archaeology, transport and storage, the postal sector, the arts, media and construction, as well as in retail, catering, hairdressing, hotel work, bar work and contract work such as cleaning and security, it says.

Produced jointly by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies and the trade-union backed think-tank Tasc, the report draws on Central Statistics Office and quarterly national household survey data, and on 40 “in-depth, qualitative interviews” with people who worked or had worked in precarious work.

Just six of the 40 interviewees had mortgages and three of these had partners in secure employment. “This is not surprising considering that people working precariously are generally excluded from submitting a mortgage application,” says the report.

Some had to move back to the family home, or had been unable to move out. Eva, a 29-year-old retail worker, said she would “love to move out” of her parents’ home. “I would have done years ago if I was getting decent money . . . I mean to be able to live, you wouldn’t be able to live if you’re only working a day or two for €9.15 an hour.” Children

A woman in her mid-30s and working as a lecturer on fixed-term contracts said: “If my career continues the way it is, on fixed-term contracts, I won’t be able to have a child, I won’t be able to buy a house. So that creates a worry. I’m at a really pivotal age in my life.”

“Precarity . . . is not just a labour market issue but the culmination of a broader conservative offensive that began with the neo-liberal turn of the 1980s . . . Legislators will have to consider universal healthcare and childcare services as well as increasing the availability of social housing” to address the worst impacts of precarious work. Voices of precarious workers:

“I don’t really see anybody to be honest. I’ve lost a lot of friends which is also hard because I have no support socially, and I think that has fed into my depression…And I think a lot of that is due to our situation, and not being able to afford to go and do things with people.” – Noel, homecare assistant

“You might have a good pay cheque coming in but you know that you’re only so many pay-cheques from not being able to pay your rent, especially when you’re doing precarious work. There were a few times when I just got really anxious and it was really starting to take control of me.” – Sara, archaeologist

“I remember the feeling of ‘shit what am I going to do? I don’t have enough money to do me for the next week’. I didn’t even have €40 a week to buy food. My limit was €40 a week, so it came donw to one of the other: food or an inhaler.” – Agnes, early-years educator

“The house is really on the ‘long finger. We just can’t imagine it. I would never get a mortgage because a commercial company in archaeology will not say you have a stable and secure employment with them…So unless your company is willing to say you are employed for ever, you might get a mortgage.” – Elaine, commercial archaeologist