Belfast Telegraph

Why talk of 'full employment' rings hollow in the north west

Leona O'Neill meets those whose experience of trying to get job in Londonderry and Strabane belies stats

Leading economist Richard Ramsey recently stated that Northern Ireland was "effectively at full employment" as official figures showed the jobless rate to be 3.5%.

Although that is a record low, the statement caused no little annoyance in the north west, with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA inviting anyone who thinks there is full employment to spend some time in his Foyle constituency office.

Londonderry has the highest unemployment rate in the province, with barely half the city's adult population working.

Mr Eastwood said: "The reality is that very capable people are being forced to leave this city in huge numbers.

"Our biggest export is our young people.

"The idea that we are all doing well is utter nonsense, and if we pretend that is the case we are lulling ourselves into a false sense of security and we continue to do nothing about it."

Andy Sims (55) has been unemployed since moving to Derry in 2015.

He previously worked as a sports services manager for mental health charity Aware while living in Belfast, and was an aircraft engine fitter in his home city of Derby before that.

"I have applied for over 200 jobs and I got one interview in that three-year period," he explained.

"I have workshop experience, I have worked in retail and am an aircraft engine fitter by trade. I didn't mind what kind of job I do, I just want to work.

"I have been constantly applying for jobs, constantly filling in forms. You get to a place where you think: what's the point? You get told you're not successful constantly. But you just have to keep trying."

Mother-of-three Paula Griffin (52) from the Waterside has been unemployed since 2012. A qualified classroom assistant, she says she has struggled to find work in that or any field.

"The last job I had was as a nursery nurse in Altnagelvin Hospital. That was six years ago and was a temporary contract. I had previously trained as a classroom assistant. I went to college at night and worked hard and got all my qualifications. But I couldn't get a job in that field. All throughout my career here in Derry I could never get a permanent job. It was always temporary.

"There doesn't seem to be any real full-time jobs, it's all zero hour or temporary contracts. I've had at least four interviews with the same company recently and I just can't seem to get anywhere.

"I fill out 12-page application forms, I prepare for the interview, do the interview and then there's nothing. It's soul-destroying. I have three children who I am raising on my own. It is tough bringing up kids on benefits."

She added: "There are not enough jobs for people in Derry. It's not good enough to tell us to get on a bus to Belfast for a three-hour trip back and forth. If you have children, you have childcare and travel expenses, which cancel out any money you'd make."

Father-of-two Seamus Crawley (41) hasn't had a job in Derry since 2003. The construction worker says many men like him head off on a Monday morning to Dublin, London and Glasgow for weeks on end to toil on building sites.

He said: "I have worked in about 25 counties in Ireland. I have worked all over England, Scotland and America. I have worked everywhere but Derry.

"At the moment I'm working in Dublin. I have to stay in a hotel, which is full of Derry men away from their families for weeks at a time just to be be able to work. There are hundreds like us."

Strabane independent councillor and community activist Paul Gallagher painted a similar picture of the town. "The reality is that there are no jobs in Strabane," he said. "Recently a number of Post Office jobs became available in the town and hundreds of applicants applied for one or two posts. Elsewhere there may be jobs with zero hour contracts, which is no use when you're trying to feed a family."

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