Report by the Communications Workers’ Union Youth Committee, November 2012

What is JobBridge?

In July 2011, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton launched the JobBridge internship scheme. Heralded by the government as a mechanism for labour market activisation (getting a job to me and you); the scheme seeks to provide work experience placements for some of the 434,000 people currently unemployed in Ireland.

Main features of the scheme:

  • Internships of 6 and 9 months are offered by host companies/organisations
  • 67% of internships private sector, 21% public sector, 9% voluntary sector
  • Interns receive no payment for their labour from their host company/organisation
  • Interns receive a “top‐up” to their social welfare of €50 to cover travel/subsistence

The rationale behind JobBridge:

  • To break the cycle where jobseekers are unable to get a job without experience
  • To keep interns close to the jobs market
  • To enhance an individual’s prospects of getting a job

The Youth Committee’s Rationale for Opposing JobBridge:

  • The scheme depresses job creation by creating a pool of free labour for employers
  • The scheme is inherently exploitative and young people are particularly vulnerable
  • The scheme will inevitably result in job displacement
  • The scheme puts downward pressure on wage levels across all sectors of the economy
  • The scheme is being used to fill the labour gap in the public sector created by the current recruitment embargo
  • All workers deserve to be paid for their labour

JobBridge: The story so far and the Indecon Report

Joan Burton recently declared that JobBridge is a success however the report by Indecon is not as straightforward as it seems.
Mrs Burton suggests that 52% of interns had gained employment from the scheme. This is spin as this figure relates to the “current status” of those who participated in the scheme. The fact is that only 29.3% of interns are currently employed by their “host” organisations. A further 22.9% have secured employment with another employer but there is no evidence to suggest a causal relationship between participation in JobBridge and this job procurement. Furthermore, only 41% of internships were completed in full. 33% of those who did not complete the scheme cited “dissatisfaction” with JobBridge as the reason for dropping out. This amounts to 1 in 5 of all interns.

Effect on Real Job Creation

6.2% of “hosts” said they would have been highly likely to have offered paid employment to JobBridge interns in the absence of the scheme, while 22.6% indicated that they would have been fairly likely to. This amounts to 28.8% which tallies with the 29.3% of interns currently employed by their host companies/organisations. Furthermore, when host companies/organisations were asked why they had not offered paid employment to their interns 42% said there were no employment opportunities available in the organisation while significantly only 3.7% cited financial constraints.

Other Factors

While the report does indicate a level of satisfaction with many aspects of the scheme it is important to remember that those who fully completed their internships disproportionately responded to the Indecon intern survey. Overall only 48% of interns responded to part of the Indecon survey.

What cannot be hidden is the high dropout rate 59%, the high number of those dissatisfied with the scheme 20% and the relatively low number of interns getting jobs from their host companies/organisations: 29.3%.

The Response to ScamBridge

The one thing that is abundantly clear from the findings of the Indecon report is that the data available is limited and many interns are not accounted for at all. While some of these may be perfectly happy with their experiences with JobBridge undoubtedly there are those who are not. Internet chat forums such as boards.ie have been inundated with stories of interns who took up placements in good faith only to find that they were being cynically used as a free labour pool. With this in mind, Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy has recently set up a new innovative website (ScamBridge.ie). The idea of the website is simple, to expose the many dubious internships advertised on the JobBridge website and to create a space where interns can share their experiences of the scheme. To date there has been a huge response on the ScamBridge website and with the help of the CWU Youth Committee, this could be translated into positive action for the interns concerned.

Below is an email received by ScamBridge from an intern named Dónal:

“This internship thing is slave labour simple as. I recently dropped out after 3 weeks of a 6‐month internship. Basically I was told I would be mentored by the warehouse manager which didn’t happen because the place was so busy. Now despite that I have to say I picked up on most things pretty quickly and by the second week I was working just as hard and as good as the other full time lads that were there. So i thought hang on a minute I’m being exploited here. I mean they could have taken me on for at least minimum wage starting off.

My contract ended just after Christmas and it dawned on me that there just planning on using me as free labour for their busy Christmas period then drop me afterwards. I’m not surprised to hear 75% of participants dropped out, its hard to give much effort everyday in a job that your not getting paid for and in the back of your mind thinking constantly there’s no guarantee of a job, it messes with your mind because your thinking I’m working flat out but I’m still unemployed, w.t.f!!!
On average the lads that worked there would have been getting about 10 euro per hour, so I reckon in just those three weeks I was there I made that boss 1200 richer paid for in my sweat. If there was no internship scheme they would have to train new recruits eventually and pay them a full time wage anyway so the internship changes nothing in fact it just makes it longer for the jobless rate to go down as there all just jumping on this internship bandwagon!” [sic]

The Campaign

Both the CWU Youth Committee and the organisers of ScamBridge maintain a principled opposition to a scheme that has people working for free. However we are cognisant of the fact that workers engage with JobBridge of their own free will and many don’t view it as exploitation. Many may change their view after commencing an internship. While the long‐term strategy of the campaign is the see the eventual wind‐down of JobBridge and its replacement with a real jobs scheme with real wages, we recognise that the protection of those currently interning is of paramount importance to the campaign. With this in mind the campaign will focus attention primarily on the more dubious internships offered by JobBridge, particularly in low‐paid sectors, while also calling
for a more vigorous vetting and monitoring process of all internships offered on JobBridge.

  • Organisations should not be allowed to hire interns consecutively to do the same job by simply changing the job title
  • The current practice of monitoring only 5% of internships must be replaced
  • An organisation that takes on an intern must provide a paid job to the intern on the completion of an internship, unless it can provide valid reasons relating to the intern’s performance or the organisation’s financial status that justifies not taking them on
  • Interns who partake in a project for which a bonus is given to staff should also receive a share of the bonus
  • Internships in the public sector must be stopped immediately
  • The Trade Union movement as the largest civil society group in Ireland must, as a matter of urgency, secure a place on the JobBridge steering group, which is currently dominated by business interests

At the launch of JobBridge the Irish Congress of Trade Unions stated that it welcomed the initiative but warned that “zero tolerance” must be shown to all those employers blatantly abusing the scheme. The campaign calls on Congress to support the activities of ScamBridge in ending the exploitation of workers in the JobBridge scheme.

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