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12 January 2014 Edition

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Slave Labour

Many companies using JobBridge are known to be anti-union and some have recently laid-off staff

• Labour Party Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has been rabid in her defence of the JobBridge scheme

‘Why create a job and pay an employee when you can get an employee for nothing from the Department of Social Protection?’ – Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Sinn Féin TD

Full-time internships advertised on JobBridge – National Internship Scheme

  • Forecourt attendant at a garage, Letterkenny
  • Delivery driver for a florist, Mallow
  • Labourer on a dairy farm, Tullamore
  • Slaughter person at a meat factory, Ballincollig
  • Sandwich artist at Subway, Nenagh
  • Server at a chip shop, Ennistymon
  • Assistant at a car-wash, Mullingar

WHEN the Fine Gael/Labour Government launched its ‘National Internship Scheme – JobBridge’ in 2011 it was immediately denounced by many on the Left as an exploitatative scheme which would see young people working full-time in menial roles for free.

Others believed it was a thinly-veiled attempt to massage unemployment figures.

The Government (and the Labour Party in particular) were quick to dimsiss such suggestions and promised JobBridge would provide real internships where unemployed young people would learn new skills, gain necessary experience and potentially be taken on in full-time jobs.

While Social Protection Minister Joan Burton TD has been rabid in her defence of the scheme, not all Government TDs have been on message.

When pressed on LMFM radio about the exploitative nature of many of the positions advertised on the JobBridge website in September, Fine Gael TD Damien English admitted: “Of course it’s free labour.”

By December 2013, almost 20,000 people had taken up internships in more than 9,000 companies. Minister Burton even doubled the maximum length of a single internship in September, allowing interns to be on placement for 18 months.

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Of those 20,000, almost one quarter have taken up positions in the public sector. Shortly after the launch of the scheme, Joan Burton said she hoped “the period of internship would be a job interview for a longer period of employment”. That is clearly not possible in the public sector as there is a recruitment embargo. So these interns are merely being used as a form of cheap labour, displacing real jobs, and with no hope of long-term employment.

Fourteen of the Government’s 16 departments have used JobBridge interns. Since 2011, these departments have taken on 228 interns yet not a single one of those has gone on to be offered a full-time position due to the moratorium.

Speaking to An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin Social Protection spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD described this as an abuse of young people.

“Young people are being put onto a scheme where there is no possibility of a job at the end of it,” Aengus said. “They are being used to replace highly-skilled workers. They’re replacing teachers and special needs assistants and even working in the Garda Vetting Unit screening CVs of job applicants working with children and vulnerable adults. And because there’s a public service embargo there’s no chance of a job at the end of it.”

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It is also telling that an independent review of the scheme in late 2012 found that six out of ten of interns left their internshp early – many simply out of dissatisfaction or a feeling that they were being exploited. Employers using JobBridge are not using it solely for the purpose of filling low-skilled jobs, though. Many companies and public bodies have been advertising for “fully-qualified” positions. Such advertisements have come from the Health Service Executive and Department of Education for medical professionals and teachers in what is a blatant attempt by Government to employ highly-qualified professionals for next to nothing.

A Parliamentary Question from Aengus Ó Snodaigh to Joan Burton in November discoverd that 31 companies had been blacklisted for abusing the scheme but the Government refuses to release the names of these companies who are flagrantly in breach of the rules.

Aengus told An Phoblacht that he has contacted the Freedom of Information Commissioner for a complete list of all the thousands of companies who have availed of the scheme. Many companies using this free labour source are known to be anti-union and in some cases ones which have recently laid off staff.

Ó Snodaigh said:

“Joan Burton should not be using her position to protect the profits of these organisations while knowing that they have been exploitative. It is sad that such a response is coming from a person who claims to be a socialist. These JobBridge abusers should be named and shamed.”

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