Has securing a steady income ever been so uncertain?

My co-workers and I watched Taoiseach Michéal Martin deliver a national address last Friday with bated breath, hoping another lockdown for Dublin was not in store. These hopes were in vain.

Finding out on Friday that I would not be required to work for at least three weeks was just a drop in the sea of uncertainty that I have faced so far during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

On 12 March, the first restrictive measures aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID -19 virus were announced in Ireland. That day I sat with a friend as we travelled from France to Ireland and discussed buying Sziget 2020 tickets, “because surely this will all be over by then”.

While home in Ireland it became apparent that I would not return to France to complete my Erasmus year. At the time was just glad not to be caught up in border closures, lockdowns, and rising plane ticket prices. From 27 March, Ireland was on full lockdown and the government introduced the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

As the lockdown was repeatedly extended, my lack of income and inability to look for a job was becoming more stressful. Watching friends who had worked four hours a week before COVID -19 receive €350 a week in PUP was irritating, though only mildly of course.

Having professional internships lined up for the summer somewhat alleviated my panic. However, as the pandemic progressed, these were cancelled. As the employment had not commenced at the time of cancellation, I still did not qualify for PUP.

Once lockdown restrictions began to ease, I headed into town armed with a stack of CVs, determined to get a job. And I did. In mid-July, I began working in a gastropub in Dublin City Centre. However, almost as soon as I was hired, the demand died down again.

The bar, which had been hopping, quietened down. The decreased footfall coincided with the rise in cases of COVID -19. The excitement surrounding the reopening of restaurants gave way to frustration around the minimum spend and time limit restrictions.

Quiet days lead to going home early and earning less than planned. I was also forced to self-isolate while awaiting a test for COVID -19, which was thankfully negative.

These circumstances will have a direct impact on my PUP application, which has been divided into three brackets of payment based on previous earnings. The regularity of being sent home early or having shifts cancelled altogether, as well as my time out of work, means my average earnings will be significantly lower than anticipated.

Though I am lucky to have secured employment in an uncertain climate, I constantly feel on the verge of losing it. Never have I used the word “precarious” so often when discussing my employment status. Unfortunately, amid suggestions of more local lockdowns, this seems like a trend that is set to continue for now at least.

Éimear Dowling