Sunday 4 December 2016

JobBridge to be axed over 'abuse by some firms'

Varadkar says state intern scheme 'of its time' but should be replaced as job market improves

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Health Minister Leo Varadkar
Health Minister Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Review: Leo Varadkar is concerned that employers are using the scheme as a cheap alternative to hiring new staff

Social protection minister Leo Varadkar is scrapping JobBridge - the controversial state-supported internship scheme for unemployed workers.

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Just two weeks into his new role, Mr Varadkar has decided to axe the social welfare scheme which has been the subject of intense criticism since it was introduced five years ago.

JobBridge sees unemployed people paid an additional €52.50 on top of their weekly dole in return for working as a full-time interns with companies.

The state-supported work experience programme is aimed at upskilling those on social welfare and securing them full-time employment.

However, businesses and state agencies have been accused of abusing the scheme and using it as a source of cheap labour during the economic downturn.

Mr Varadkar said JobBridge in its current form had "served its purpose" but added that he wanted to see it replaced with a new scheme better suited to the current jobs market.

He added that JobBridge was launched during the recession when unemployment was soaring and companies were not hiring because they could not afford to recruit, while the firms that were employing insisted on high levels of experience from job applicants.

"Large numbers of recent graduates and people who lost their jobs in the recession couldn't get the relevant workplace experience they needed to get a first or a new job," Mr Varadkar told the Sunday Independent.

"That crisis is now over, the economy is growing and employers are hiring again."

The minister added that he was concerned by reports that employers were using the scheme as a "cheap alternative to hiring new employees".

"On the other hand, I am very conscious that there are still many people who lost their jobs in the depth of the recession who are struggling to break back into the labour market, and schemes like JobBridge can provide a valuable pathway to such people, in particular where it is associated with a training programme," he added.

JobBridge was introduced by Mr Varadkar's predecessor in the Department of Social Protection and constituency colleague, Joan Burton.

Around a third of the 46,500 people who signed up to the work experience programme have gone on to secure full-time employment.

However, since Ms Burton established the intern scheme it has faced criticism from at home and abroad.

Among the main concerns relating to JobBridge is the hiring of people on social welfare for low-skilled jobs when the aim of the programme is for workers to gain experience while searching for full-time employment.

In 2014, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said JobBridge was "large and expensive" and "not targeted specifically at the most disadvantaged groups".

Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Anti-Austerity Alliance People Before Profit have all called for the Government to abandon the scheme.

Impact trade union called for the scheme to be axed and replaced with targeted programmes aimed at specific groups, including unemployed early school leavers, graduates and the long-term unemployed.

A recent report showed the HSE hired 399 people through JobBridge, while the GAA took on 249.

Last week, newly appointed training and Sskill junior minister John Halligan said the scheme was "not fit for purpose" and should be replaced as soon as possible.

However, sources close to Mr Varadkar insisted the social protection minister's decision to axe the scheme was taken before Mr Halligan's intervention.

Consultancy agency Indecon is currently undertaking a review of JobBridge which will report back to the minister in September.

The outcome of the review will guide the minister as to the future of the scheme and what could ultimately replace it.

Mr Varadkar said he personally knew people who benefited from taking up a JobBridge position but recognised it was "very much a scheme of its time".

"I don't think it should just be scrapped. You should never take opportunity away unless you replace it with a better opportunity. However, I won't be making any final decision on the future of the scheme until the Indecon report has been published in September," he added.

The current JobBridge scheme will remain in place until the review is completed and when axed those on programmes will see out the remainder of their internships.

It is expected that the length of internships, which is between six and nine months under the current scheme, will be reduced to less than six months when a new programme is introduced by Mr Varadkar.

Sunday Independent

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