JobBridge scheme ‘needs to be dissolved’, report recommends

Low Pay Commission needs to address ‘no pay’, NUI Maynooth academic says

Claire Keaveney, divisional executive committee, and Harold Hislop, Chief Inspector, Department of Education and Skills, at the Impact education division conference at the Clayton Hotel in Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Claire Keaveney, divisional executive committee, and Harold Hislop, Chief Inspector, Department of Education and Skills, at the Impact education division conference at the Clayton Hotel in Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The Government’s “one size fits all” JobBridge programme “needs to be dissolved”, a report for Impact’s education division has recommended.

The report by Dr Mary Murphy of NUI Maynooth (NUIM) says it is time to “ refocus” internships in Ireland and extend the work of the Low Pay Commission to the issue of “no pay”.

Speaking at the Impact education division conference in Galway, Dr Murphy said a series of tailored programmes need to be initiated instead.

The most disadvantaged groups and long-term unemployed should be targeted specifically under a new framework which controls and monitors voluntary internships, she said.

Her report calls for regulation to ensure that interns are covered by class A social insurance contribution.

Internships should not be allowed at all in “low value-added” private sector employment, or in the public sector, until such time as there is full staffing and no moratorium on recruitment, her report recommends.

Dr Murphy noted that the JobBridge scheme was introduced in 2011 as an “emergency and temporary response” to high unemployment, emigration and negative growth.

However, there was now a” real fear” that it had become a “bit of a monster” with the capacity to “embed a culture of unpaid work in Ireland”, she said.

The original target for JobBridge placements was 3,000, but this grew rapidly to 8,500 in 2014.

JobBridge monitoring mechanisms were “under-resourced, poor, inconsistent” and were “more focused on compliance of the sponsor with basic eligibility rules” than with “monitoring the quality of the work experience or mentoring”, Dr Murphy said.

In the education sector, JobBridge placements extended from special needs assistants to teaching assistants to internships in universities, with Trinity College, Dublin having received approval for 200 JobBridge posts, she said.

There was a sense of “real anarchy out there” in the scheme’s use, with very little monitoring of employers and issues around quality, poor conditions and no insurance cover, she noted.

While some participants reported that they were receiving good work experience, others described the scheme as “very dispiriting” and there was a sense of exploitation.

Many graduates were engaged on JobBridge schemes, but research had showed that half of those would have got jobs anyway, she said.

Also, some 30 per cent of employers said they would have created new posts if they hadn’t been able to avail of JobBridge, she said.

“Churning in and out of precarious work and internships need to be an urgent focus of the Low Pay Commission and labour law regulations,”her report says.

The report also recommends that the number of active labour market internships should be proportionate to, and no more than, five per cent of the total active labour market interventions.

It recommends a more limited series of four internship programmes – an under-25 youth guarantee, led by Solas and with a training focus; graduate internships, led by the Higher Education Authority; a programme for the 25 years to 64 years long-term unemployed, led by the Department of Social Protection; and a culture of open market internships, led by the Low Pay Commission.

Dr Murphy noted that even if JobBridge was “closed tomorrow”, the use of unpaid internships had replaced many traditional routes in the labour market, and was now a “cultural norm” which reflected international trends.

However, in both Britain and the US, moves were being made to restrict abuses, while non-payment of interns had been successfully legally contested in 2011, she said.

The report by Dr Murphy will be published by Impact next Monday. It was commissioned due to a “growing unease” about the use of JobBridge in the education sector, the union says.