THE BLOG
19/02/2015 12:41 GMT | Updated 21/04/2015 06:59 BST

A Controversial Proposition - An Honest Day's Work for an Honest Day's Pay

Like so many of the foot soldiers in my inglorious profession, the trudge to the bottom of my career ladder felt a long one.

In the years before my first journalism job, I cleared tables, washed dishes, stacked shelves, sold suits and even (on one particularly fragrant occasion) scrubbed clean the walls of a recently vacated stable. Glamorous? No. Paid? Certainly.

Yet it wasn't all fun and games. I remember well the reactions of Jobcentre staff to any aspirations above menial labour; I recall the time wasted on tailoring applications that were not even acknowledged with a refusal.

The life of a jobseeker is not that of a bon viveur. It wasn't when I graduated amid a deep recession, nor is it today. Still, there was once a basic dignity in it if you were making an effort. Not for much longer it would seem.

David Cameron, our ever-sympathetic Prime Minister, has announced plans to force the jobless to do community work in exchange for their benefits.

If the measure sounds familiar, that's because the words 'community work' very nearly describe a punishment meted out to petty criminals. It's also not the first time people have been penalised by the coalition for struggling to find employment.

Under the government's workfare scheme, jobless graduates worked unskilled roles on a full-time basis for big-money bosses. Their reward? Their paltry Jobseeker's Allowance - an hourly rate of pay outrageously short of the minimum.

The premise, as ever, was to get more people into jobs by building their experience, but the logic was daft. What employer would create a paid position when there's a massive free workforce available?

Thinking of it, I'm reminded of something my dad told me - one of those 'back in the day' stories about how he had left school on a Friday and walked into his first job on a Monday. Is investment in an untried young person now too onerous for employers?

Not that the taste is so sweet for those who are promoted into paid roles. I know people who work full time when their contracts stipulate a day's worth of work. Their hours could be slashed at any moment, but they're expected to keep the week free.

One of these people was berated by a previous boss for having the audacity to go home on time, being told their breaks (to which they're statutorily entitled) obliged them to stay late. Clocking out times were, however, altered for staff to reflect their contracted hours.

Meanwhile, those plucky upstarts who would trouble their chiefs with tribunals have been dealt a blow, with steep fees enacted for those starting a case and smaller rewards for those who win them.

In the past, I've put this change in the workplace down to the economy - too many souls for too few jobs. But the much-proclaimed recovery we're all supposed to be enjoying (which definitely isn't debt fuelled) hasn't abated things. Why?

Now I don't consider myself a bolshy crusader or even particularly left wing, but the question I feel compelled to ask now seems an increasingly controversial one - can we not reward an honest day's work with an honest day's pay?