For casual workers, the employment limbo can be soul-wrenching | Noah Gwatkin | Australia news


Name: Noah Gwatkin

Age: 18

Dreams of: Still working it out

It means a lot to be stable, to be grounded and secure. Having a job does this – but a job can be so easily stripped away. Jobs are not all created equal. Some have more stability, but the insecure ones can make you feel dehumanised, like less of a worker. Sometimes, I think they can discourage you from working altogether. This is the case for me.

I am currently employed under a Christmas casual contract with a local retailer and I’m grateful given the daunting times for so many. I work as a retail assistant and I was told the role had opportunities to grow in the company. It was really fun talking to people and helping them, serving those in our community has always been something that inspires me. No matter what role, large or small. The schedule of hours wasn’t always concrete, being a casual employee you are at the mercy of your employer, for when and how much food gets on the table, if bills are paid on time and if your life doesn’t fall into disarray over a lack of shifts.

During the Christmas period you’re told to expect large crowds, busy people, sometimes angry people too, but it’s been rewarding, both financially but more importantly – mentally. My job officially ends on 31 January, that’s only a few days away, and I just want certainty, with Centrelink being cut to a dangerous $150 a fortnight, this job would provide much needed security if it continued.

Now I’m not saying in the slightest that I’m ungrateful for the Christmas casual work I picked up, hell no. I am grateful for having a job during an economic downturn, a pandemic and as a young person. However, there comes a time when you think: is this helping me when I know my job will end? What if my mental health stops me from working? Can I expect to keep working in this way in my future and will I ever go anywhere in my life? These are the questions casual workers have asked themselves for too long – and especially those like myself who are new to the workforce, need experience and need that security.

It can be soul-wrenching to have your confidence, spirit and drive to get up every day pummelled by two single words – unemployed or employed. I’m employed right now, but in a week I won’t be. It’s this limbo that hangs and lingers, you need to work, but you lose faith when every single job you’ve applied for has turned you down. How do I keep going when each fortnight Centrelink wants, as a condition, that I apply for sometimes eight jobs a fortnight, and when, so far at least, every single one comes back as a no? You doubt yourself as a human, as a citizen. You question why you even get these government payments. I question whether there is something wrong with me.

The dialogue with myself changes day to day, but at this point I just have no hope for a job. I am desperate to work but desire to be treated with human decency as a worker. I do not want to have to sacrifice my mental health for a job.

Sometimes I feel that school failed in teaching us how to live as adults. Something that always annoyed my friends and I was that school would always teach the most obscure facts and skills, but wouldn’t teach us how to do our taxes, apply for Centrelink and even help us find jobs we were passionate in – not just being shipped off with the same cookie-cutter set of skills. That said, school has taught me some skills that are useful as an adult: problem solving, how to defend yourself and stand up for others, and the importance of staying true to yourself. So I guess, in a way, they gave us all the pieces but just said “put it together yourself”. The truth is, though, not everyone can always do that. It can be scary for people, myself included.

While working is rewarding, it should never be to the detriment of your mental health, it’s a tough and fine line to walk. How will my employer see me if I take a day off for mental health? Will I be protected financially if I cannot work for a period of time due to mental health? It’s something that sobers you, makes you understand the hard questions life throws at you.

So with my job at a potential end, am I back to square one? Used for a few months then simply discarded? I hope not.

Dreams Interrupted


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