JobBridge goal is to drive down wages

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Over the past five months, the Labour/Fine Gael coalition has rolled out its JobBridge internship scheme. This scheme sees thousands of unemployed people taking 6-9 month “work experience placements” in various jobs in exchange for €50 per week in addition to their social welfare payment.

 
The purported aim of the scheme is to “assist in breaking the cycle where jobseekers are unable to get a job without experience, either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training or as unemployed workers wishing to learn new skills.” However, the reality is that the scheme offers opportunistic bosses a mechanism to exploit the unemployed, particularly those crippled with debt, employing them at far below the normal cost for jobs that would otherwise be have to be filled in the normal manner, driving down wages, and expanding the role of precarious labour in the Irish economy (what is known as “increasing competitiveness” in official jargon).
 
The pretence that the scheme is intended to offer “opportunities” to the unemployed is belied by the heavy uptake of the scheme by employers offering low-skilled or unskilled jobs - including supermarket shelf-stackers, shop assistants, fast-food workers and the like - making only the most perfunctory and ridiculous attempts at appearing to offer a training component. Most famously, Tesco is employing a number of interns to work for six months “filling shelves according to merchandising plans and ensuring that customers do not have to queue”, claiming that the intern “will gain skills such as rotation of stock, customer service skills, management of waste and damages, merchandising to plans routines” (the same skills a teenager would gain during a summer job, but at much higher cost to Tesco).
 
However, we should resist the urge to focus only on those that are obviously taking the piss, and to ignore the exploitation underlying internships that have a genuine training element, which can be more easily spun as “legitimate”. Whatever the content of the internship, the fact remains that employers are only required to contribute €50 to the intern’s pay, with the rest coming out of workers’ tax. Employers pocket the difference as extra profit. Additionally, since there is no obligation on employers to offer an actual job at the end of the internship period, they are able to continually cycle through disposable interns without ever actually employing any of them in fully paid work.
 
This is not an oversight, or a result of governmental incompetence, but rather cynical opportunism by the government. The unemployment crisis is being exploited to further several longstanding goals of neoliberal governance: cutting wages, undermining job security, and using welfare as a mechanism to provide cheap labour for business. It’s an issue that affects all workers in Ireland, not just those who will be directly involved in the scheme, by lowering the accepted threshold for exploitation in the economy as a whole, underling the organising power of unions, and normalising insecure and precarious labour.

This article is from Issue 124 of Ireland's anarchist paper Workers Solidarity November / December 2011

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