Ireland has been in the grips of COVID-19 for a year. While much of the country has come to a standstill, university students found their part-time jobs transformed from a weekend job that funded coffee and pints, into positions that were deemed essential services. The College Tribune spoke to the unsung heroes who balanced an essential job with full-time studies.

‘Mark’ spoke to the Tribune about his experiences in a warehouse, packaging books for delivery. He told us that safety is paramount in the workplace, and that ‘there’s only one area in which people can eat. Coming into close contact with someone without a mask on for at least half an hour is an inevitable part of my day.’

Mark also raised the issue with the minimum wage compared to the Pandemic Unemployment payment (PUP). ‘I’m earning far less than my friends who have received the PUP. I don’t think the PUP is too high. However, I do think that the minimum wage is just far too low and the €350 a week has demonstrated the hypocrisy of the minimum wage.’

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Another student, wishing to remain anonymous, gave us their thoughts on balancing an undergraduate degree with working in a DIY store in Dublin. ‘When we reopened in May, the safety of staff and customers was paramount. There was always a limit of roughly 150 people which usually caused a large queue to form outside the shop.’

‘Since the end of last year, safety standards have really begun to slide. During the weekends, the shop is packed which has already resulted in several complaints from customers as social distancing is difficult to maintain. Most customers are sound and a pleasure to help. However, we have been subject to a lot of verbal abuse from customers, noticeably more than before COVID. It is really affecting staff morale and sometimes compromises safety when people refuse to wear a mask,’ they said.

‘Despite the store giving out bonuses & gift cards, I think some government guidelines could be a lot stricter, particularly regarding masks. GDPR is a conflict with the current laws meaning once someone says they have a special reason for not wearing one, we cannot question them or ask them to leave the shop.’

‘The best way to acknowledge essential workers would be a significant rise in the minimum wage, to a living wage if possible. We have all seen how much society has depended upon us through the pandemic, so it makes sense that we are paid appropriately for the essential service we provide to the public.’

Finally, Jerrin, a supply chain management student in the Smurfit Business School, told us of his difficulty in balancing a master’s degree with working part-time in a convenience store.

‘Managing work and studies is a real task, especially when the course itself is very demanding. I personally prepare a schedule with all the deadlines to meet for individual modules. I usually work for 6 hours at Centra and after I reach home, I devote myself to preparing a to-do list for the day and checking them off as the intended tasks are completed. This has enabled me to keep a tab on the workload and prioritise tasks based on the deadlines.’

‘All we want for 2021 is to get rid of the coronavirus and be able to return back to normal. Doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers are all working selflessly, putting their own lives at risk and expecting nothing in return, to help the nation become virus-free.’

‘We, as the essential workers, are doing more or less the same thing. There are a lot of students like me, who have come forward to serve the people at these difficult times. A small remuneration to waive off a part of their college fees or some sort of stipend could prove to be immensely beneficial for us.’

Luke Murphy – Co-Editor