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National intern project is 'not a free work scheme'

A member of the steering committee for JobBridge, the Government's national internship scheme, has criticised Fas's handling of the project following reports that some employers are using interns, who are paid for by the State, to replace paid workers.

James Doorley, assistant director at the National Youth Council of Ireland, told the Sunday Independent that the scheme needed to be monitored more closely if it was to be effective. "Fas really needs to do a lot more to weed out jobs being placed on the website that clearly are not internships -- JobBridge is not a free work scheme."

The internship scheme was set up by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton to give new entrants to the labour market such as school and college leavers valuable work experience and also to help people on social welfare to get new skills and on-the-job training.

As well as their social welfare payment, interns are subsidised an extra €50 per week by the State during their internship, which they can find through the dedicated JobBridge website run by Fas.

While some of the jobs listed on the website fit the criteria for the scheme, a significant proportion do not, with some applicants claiming that the scheme is being used by employers to source free, government-subsidised labour instead of hiring paid staff. Iinternships' have been listed for kitchen porters, forklift operatives, groundskeepers and waiting staff.

According to Mr Doorley, positions like this should be withdrawn from the scheme immediately.

"Some employers seem to be confused as to what an internship is and I think that there are others who are taking advantage of the scheme as well. There are a lot of good jobs on there but there is an issue with employers switching what was a paid job into an unpaid internship."

Labour TD Colm Keaveney said that he believed the scheme was worthwhile but has expressed concerns over the handling of the scheme by Fas to the Department of Social Protection, after he was contacted in person and online by people concerned that jobs were being displaced by interns.

"I've talked to the Department of Social Protection during the week and I've asked for improvements in the monitoring of the placement of jobs and of job functions and job titles. There is a policing policy in place there currently, but it certainly needs to be tightened up. I understand that people are advertising jobs for kitchen porters and the likes -- that should not happen. If someone needs a kitchen porter or a similar job, they should pay someone the minimum wage for that job."

At the other end of the employment spectrum, Aer Lingus has advertised a total of 19 positions through the scheme, including for qualified aviation engineers with "verifiable references" for an "engineering assistant internship".

There have also been positions listed for qualified solicitors, architects and accountants, with some professionals worried that they will lose what little part-time work they currently have.

One accountant contacted by the Sunday Independent said that contract accounting work she was doing was now being done for free by interns.

"The scheme has made my life worse, and it was hard enough before the JobBridge scheme," she said, adding that she wished to remain anonymous for fear that she would be blackballed by employers.

Sunday Independent