Half leave Coalition’s youth internship scheme without a job

Exclusive: Retail workers’ union says young people are being used as ‘cheap labour for six months and then discarded’

The $750m youth employment scheme is aimed at helping young Australians into work.

Half of those exiting the government’s low-paying youth internship scheme leave without a job, prompting concerns participants are being used as “cheap labour” and then discarded.

The government’s $750m youth employment scheme Youth Jobs Path (Prepare, Trial, Hire) has been operating since April and is aimed at helping young Australians into work.

The scheme has been criticised for providing interns with just $200 per fortnight in pay, which equates to roughly $4 an hour.

Path internships show government is on the wrong track

Earlier this year the employment minister, Michaelia Cash, said she expected 120,000 internships over four years, or about 30,000 a year.

Figures provided by the employment department show the scheme was well below that target by 3 October.

In its first six months of operation, the scheme gave 2,211 internships, of which 1,541 had been concluded.

Only 609, about 40% of concluded internships, resulted in a job. Another 795, or 51%, of interns did not get a job after their internship ended.

That included 270 people who successfully completed the internship program but failed to secure employment, and 525 whose internship ended early without a job.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) said the scheme was shortchanging some of Australia’s most vulnerable and lowest-paid workers.

The SDA national secretary, Gerard Dwyer, said young people were being used as “cheap labour for six months and then discarded”.

“Despite the SDA’s concerns it appears that the Turnbull government has also failed to put in place practical protections to prevent unscrupulous employers from using the Path program to repeatedly exploit young workers as a source of cheap labour,” Dwyer told Guardian Australia. “Further, it is likely that those workers who did secure full-time employment through the Path program would have done so regardless, without the experience of being exploited and underpaid over a six-month period.”

The criticism was dismissed by Cash. She said 70% of the interns who successfully completed their internship went on to get a job. Cash also said the SDA’s claim that internships lasted six months was inaccurate.

“Path internships are voluntary and last between four to 12 weeks,” she said. “Since January 2017, more than 12,000 young Australians have gained employment under the Youth Jobs Path program. Nearly 70% of the young people who complete their internship have moved into a paid job.”

The internships represent one of three parts of the Path scheme. The program also provides wage subsidy agreements to encourage the employment of young jobseekers.

Subsidy agreements were struck for 10,603 jobseekers between April and October. About 12% of those agreements had been subsequently terminated.

The government had paid $20.5m to employment service providers under the agreements.

The Path program has also seen 9,303 young jobseekers undertake employability skills training.

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