Letter: Low-paid but highly qualified

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The Independent Online
Sir: The future for the countless numbers of British low-paid workers, as Jack O'Sullivan rightly points out ("Would a statutory minimum wage help to eradicate low pay?", 20 September), does look bleak, despite Tony Blair's promise to reinstate the minimum wage. However, neither Mr O'Sullivan nor Barrie Clement ("Who pays the meanest wages to whom?", 20 September) recognise that a growing proportion of Britain's low-paid are not school-leavers or unskilled workers. They are fully qualified graduates forced to take unskilled positions, often temporary, part-time or on the deceptive "self-employed" basis.

The boom in higher education, in which now one 18-year-old in three goes on to study after school, looks set to flood the job market with yet more qualified graduates seeking work. This desperation for work, and the accompanying lack of national guidelines on job rates and employment practices, means that firms will be able to take further advantage of even the most highly skilled and motivated job-seeker.

One practice that I encounter in my search for work as a television researcher (admittedly a very precarious occupation) is that of "trial" periods of unpaid work, with the carrot of a possible remunerated position dangling at the end of an unspecified stretch of time.

My hope that I could have taken up such an offer by receiving income support were quashed when I was told that I would not be "immediately available for work", a condition which must be satisfied for receipt of the maximum pounds 36.50 per week benefit. My protests that such a "trial" period should surely be viewed as an initiative in job-seeking fell on deaf ears.

Unless stricter criteria are laid down regarding employment, these practices will multiply, with the consequence that graduates such as myself, with a degree in modern languages, will look to other European countries which appear to be more adept at harnessing the talents of their younger generations.

Yours sincerely,

Anna Baker

Sandy, Bedfordshire

20 September