With mass unemployment haunting Ireland, the Government is under pressure to be seen to be doing something about it. Thanks to its continuation of the disastrous austerity policies of the last government, the unemployment rate is now over 14% (a significant underestimation when those who have dropped out of the labour market are taken into account), with youth unemployment closer to 20%. Without the prospect of a job, around 1,000 people are emigrating from Ireland every week.
As part of their election promise to tackle the scourge of unemployment, the Government hyped up a so-called ‘Jobs Programme’. This was downgraded to a ‘Jobs Initiative‘ essentially made up of tax cuts for business.
One of the key aspects of this ‘Jobs Initiative’ was the National Internship Scheme, JobBridge. This was launched on 1 July 2011 to much government-generated fanfare and spin. This scheme was to provide those who have been unemployed for over three months with an “opportunity to gain valuable work experience…through quality internship programmes.” In return for participating in these schemes, the intern would get an extra €50 a week, on top of their dole payments.
This is paid for by the State, meaning that the businesses get an extra worker for nothing. Instead of being a scheme to get people back to work, it is a means of super-exploitation. It represents a massive subsidy by the State for business. In addition, these internships in many cases replace actual jobs, preventing people getting real work, as well as acting as a downward pressure on wages and conditions.
Success? Depends who’s counting
Coming towards the end of the first year of the scheme, Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection, declared the scheme a success and said that a further 1,000 internships would be provided for. She claimed on 9 May 2012 that 38% of those who had completed JobBridge, or 797 people, were now in full-time employment. At first sight, that looks like a qualified success, but it depends on who is counting, and how! When the figure is delved into, it becomes clear that JobBridge has been a massive failure in terms of actually leading to proper jobs for the unemployed.
The Sunday Times (6 May 2012) reports that the scheme had a 75% dropout rate. So the 38% of people who got a job is really 38% of the 25% who completed the scheme. Furthermore, of the 797 jobs that people got, less than 400 were with the companies who took on the intern. This means that only 6% of the people who took an internship with a company had, by May 2012, actually got a job with that employer.
The nature of the ‘internships’ generally provided by JobBridge are little more than super-exploitation of the unemployed. It is this experience that explains the high percentage of people who do not complete the scheme.
The Government, business bodies and the media have created a narrative around JobBridge in order to hide its exploitative nature. They argue that many of the unemployed are young, highly-educated people who just need to get some work experience to make them employable. In the right-wing media, this is often complemented with calls for “people to be made to work for their dole” and declarations that the dole is too high.
Of course, what this story ignores is the reality of why so many people are unemployed – not because they are lazy, not because they don’t have work experience, but simply because there are very few jobs out there. The meme - “Oh, get a job? Just get a job? Why don’t I strap on my job helmet and squeeze down into a job cannon and fire off into job land, where jobs grow on jobbies!” – sums it up well.
Far from providing the “quality internship programmes” of its mission statement, the scheme has been cynically exploited as a source of free labour. The majority of positions advertised on the JobBridge website are not ‘internships’ at all in reality, but are clearly actual jobs that the employer would rather fill for free instead of paying someone to do it. For example, jobs currently advertised include “lorry driver/helper”, a “store person”, and a “café worker”. Clearly, these are actual jobs being filled through JobBridge and the “highly educated young people lacking experience” are not going to be in a much better position to get a job having worked for nine months as a store person or in a café!
This is a key reason why people are dropping out of the scheme – why would someone go to work every day for nine months when they are not actually getting paid for the work while everyone around them doing the same job is getting paid? Especially when there is very little prospect of a paid job at the end, and it is obvious that far from being an intern getting trained, you are actually an unpaid staff member.
The statistics show that the private sector is taking in 68% of the interns. The two main groups of private sector employers are companies of 0-49 staff and companies of over 250+ staff (primarily multinationals).
Tesco, a multinational that made obscene profits of over €4.5 billion in profits in 2011, attempted to hire over 200 Christmas staff last year under the guise of providing ‘internships’ through JobBridge. Other huge companies like O2 Telefonica and GlaxoSmithKline are hiring people through JobBridge. These companies are cynically exploiting educated young people in particular, with 46% of participants being in the 25-34 year old age bracket. This is reflected in the fact that many of the jobs with larger firms, and some smaller ones too, are related to the technical and in particular internet side of the business. Rather than hire a computer or technical engineer, these companies see graduates with qualifications in these areas as a free source of labour, while the participant may naively see it as a chance to ‘get their foot in the door’.
Many smaller companies and businesses are exploiting the scheme just as much. Cafés, restaurants and shops are attempting to portray positions as a sales assistant or barista as internships, when in fact what they are looking for is free labour.
It is clear that there is work that these companies need people to do, but that they are unwilling to pay for someone to do it. Rather than create a real job, they prefer to try to use JobBridge to get a free worker. In this way, it is clear that rather than acting as part of the solution to mass unemployment, JobBridge actually is part of the problem.
JobBridge will act as a drain on job creation. Why would an employer pay someone to do a job when they can just use this scheme? Since this scheme of work, hundreds of thousands of hours of free labour have been given to these companies. In addition, the exploitation inherent in this scheme will create a downward pressure on wages.
Real jobs with real wages
Having already bailed out the banks to the tune of over €64 billion, the taxpayer in Ireland is now involved in another welfare scheme for business, this time dressed up as a way to get people back to work. It is estimated that so far the scheme has cost the Government an extra €13 million on top of the regular welfare payment for the interns.
Instead of using this money to provide corporate welfare, the government should scrap JobBridge and invest in a real Jobs Programme. All college fees should be scrapped, together with the provision of a decent grant to allow people to get training at third level education. Councils should take on apprentices at the proper rates in order to allow them to finish off their apprenticeships. A massive programme of direct employment public works at trade union rates should be launched to create tens of thousands of jobs building or upgrading vital public infrastructure, such as the replacement of water mains and pipes throughout the state, a national rainwater harvesting programme in all public buildings, the retrofitting of public buildings with insulation, the replacement of all unfit social housing and the building of necessary schools and hospitals.
The government has got off relatively lightly with the exploitation at JobBridge until now because of people’s eagerness for something to be done to tackle unemployment. We want to launch a campaign to expose the reality of what is happening with these schemes, to demand it is ended and a real Jobs Programme implemented in its place. We want to hear stories from people who have worked on these schemes. If you have experience with JobBridge, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org, on twitter @paulmurphymep or on www.facebook.com/paulmurphy.sp.