Saturday 24 June 2017

Firms banned from using JobBridge after allegations of physical assault and bullying of interns

Businesses were banned from using the JobBridge scheme following allegations that interns had been bullied and physically assaulted. File picture
Businesses were banned from using the JobBridge scheme following allegations that interns had been bullied and physically assaulted. File picture

Meadhbh McGrath

Businesses were banned from using the JobBridge scheme following allegations that interns had been bullied and physically assaulted.

Internal reports from the Department of Social Protection were released to the Irish Examiner, revealing that a total of 86 companies received some form of ban from the taxpayer-funded scheme since it began in 2011.

The documents include allegations that at least two interns suffered bullying, with one reporting that they had been verbally abused by their mentors. In both instances, the companies involved received six-month bans.

Interns claimed that they had been forced to work unfair hours, including one incident where an intern was prohibited from leaving work despite telling their supervisors they were unwell.

Another business allegedly locked at least two interns into the work premises, which an inspector described as raising “serious health and safety concerns”.

The documents also include a partially-redacted report describing an accusation of physical assault.

“A definitive incident occurred and this was admitted by (the company owner),” the report reads.

“While there is (sic) conflicting accounts of this particular incident we would have grave concerns about the nature of the incident.”

Other reports contained claims that employees within certain companies lost their jobs only to be replaced by JobBridge interns, or saw their hours reduced after the hiring of an intern.

Further suspensions were prescribed to companies who did not provide proper mentoring to interns; who did not outline a standard agreement with their intern regarding their duties; and who did not have any PAYE and PRSI-paying employees (one of the scheme’s eligibility requirements).

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The department refused to disclose the names of businesses involved, saying such a disclosure “could reasonably be expected to result in a material financial loss or prejudice the competitive position” of the companies.

However, all firms serving bans from the scheme last November had their suspensions lifted after the department decided its own guidelines “were not robust enough to necessarily comply with fair procedures”.

At the time, 18 businesses had been banned indefinitely; two were suspended for 18 months; six were barred from using the scheme for a year; and two had been disqualified for six months.

The report noted that no businesses have been issued with suspensions from JobBridge since the decision in November to lift existing bans.

A spokesperson for the department told the Examiner that the controversial scheme has cost the taxpayer almost €282m, and 15,211 people who completed a placement with JobBridge had immediately secured employment following their internship.

That number represents approximately 32pc of the 46,537 people who started a JobBridge internship since 2011. There are currently 4,005 interns on the scheme.

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