It’s no secret that the invertebrate specimens who like to call themselves the government are becoming more and more brazen in their despicable rush to become corporate whores. Peg Leeson looks at their latest venture; a new plan to turn the unemployed into glorified slaves.
The argument went that state subsidised work placements would allow school leavers and recent graduates to gain experience in the jobs market and bolster a faltering economy. The sullen, depressed under 25 year old would be given incentives to get out of bed and all would become right in the world again.
This was the sophisticated older cousin of the Work Placement Programme, which allowed participants to keep their welfare payments but denied them help with the costs incurred by entering a workplace; the middle-class compatriot of Tús, the community work placement initiative, which targeted the long-term unemployed.
But instead of creating jobs and empowering their participants the various initiatives are undermining job creation and demonising the unemployed.
The scheme was implemented against the backdrop of an Irish graduate unemployment rate which has increased 22 times quicker than the Eurozone average.
The unemployment figures for the class of 2008 show that nearly one in five people who graduated from a third level institution in that year were still unemployed one year later. This figure can only have increased with the addition of those who have graduated since.
The situation is bleaker still for school leavers. The live register figures for July place youth unemployment at one in three more than double the national average. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that in a recession, double dipped or not, the inexperienced are going to face the greatest struggle to get a foothold in an already full, and fearful, labour market. The fact that the live register nearly doubled between 2008 to 2009 identifies the actual culprit as the global ‘downturn’.
Clearly someone forgot to inform Joan Burton, Minister for Social ‘Protection’, about this curious statistical correlation. For Joan, youth unemployment is not a product of unfortunate timing and thwarted ambition, quite the opposite – it is a ‘life-style choice’.
Queue a litany of berate parents shopping their lazy children on Liveline, turning mundane domestic affairs into a political lobby. It’s convenient that this witch-hunt of the under-deserving poor should coincide with coalition attempts to erode the universal nature of social welfare. Suddenly the long-term dole scrounger materialises in the public’s shared imagination creating a stereotype that can accommodate any gender, any race so long as you are poor enough. Yes, clearly Ireland’s economic woe wasn’t caused by political and fiscal mismanagement but by the long-term unemployed. Hence refusal to take up a place on the Tús scheme can already result in the reduction or loss of your welfare payments.
That is, the money provided by the state to help you meet the minimum requirements for well-being without resulting to charity. Let’s also overlook the economic fact that a healthy economy needs a minimum level of unemployment, generally believed to be no lower then 4%, to help avert inflation. The Irish live register currently stands at 14.2%, and rising since 2008, the difference between a ‘healthy’ and an ‘unhealthy’ economy, can be directly linked to the recession.
These economic facts are irrelevant for a society looking for a scapegoat, for a state that is unwilling to bring the true architects of the situation to account and for business interests who want to erode the employment protections gained by organised labour throughout the 20th century.
..the average hourly rate of pay of a JobBridge Intern which is 3.5 times less then the average Irish industrial wage of €21.80
…the combined gross profit of Tesco, Topaz (Shell), Hewlett Packard and Aer Lingus – just four of the companies availing of the JobBridge initiative.
Initially JobBridge was envisaged as a scheme into which the host organisation would also contribute. In return for a weekly payment of €150 they would enjoy the labour of a highly educated graduate; €100 of this would top-up the employees social welfare payments with presumably the other €50 going into the state coffers. So instead of costing the debt-ridden Irish taxpayer €20 million it would have generated the same in revenue. However, after consultation with the potential hosts this private/public liberal dream was replaced by full state subsides. So while business interests such a IBEC, and Richard Burton (FG), call for reductions in welfare payments, the minimum wage and the erosion of part-time employees rights, they are uncharacteristically coy about the state subsidising private enterprise in this, or any other, scheme.
One does wonder why organisations such as Topaz, Aer Lingus and Hewlett Packard can’t pay the minimum wage to high calibre trainees? Surely a means-tested contributor-based scheme would have generated revenue for the state, gave the participants a living wage and developed business in equal proportions? Another dangerous consequence here is the undermining of job creation.
Close monitoring of the FAS Jobsbank website demonstrates that the number of paid junior positions has fallen dramatically since the implementation of these initiatives.
Take some time to search under any of the employment sectors and often, too often, subsidised jobs far out-weigh paid positions. To be fair why pay for labour when the state will happily subsidise it? The latest boast is that sole traders can join this feeding frenzy – so how exactly is FAS, sorry Solas, going to monitor the multitude of hosts this will generate?
Log onto any forum that deals with this issue and you’ll see JobBridge employees complaining of little or no support from FAS. The major problem with this lack of regulation is that the scheme is open to abuse.
Paid co-workers who contribute to these forums repeat water-cooler anecdotes of management gleefully exploiting the system – displacing previously paid positions, with no intention of employing candidates and not offering adequate training or supervision – in short they are destroying rather than creating jobs while damaging the participants.
Another pillar of the unpaid work myth is that you will gain vital experience which will far outweigh the immediate hardships felt by low pay. Just how nine months of work experience is going to help you compete against the flood of middle-aged talent that has saturated the employment market as a consequence of this recession one can only wonder.
Participants in the intern scheme can only take one nine month position every two years, the rest of your experience will be gained at your own expense or while maintaining your social welfare payments if your lucky.
Sure in the good old days a bit of voluntary work often gave you the edge but it was meant as a short-term supplement to paid employment not as a long-term alternative. This is not just about those of us who were fortunate enough to successfully access third level education.
The WPP2 scheme is aimed at school leavers. And here more than anywhere else is the ugly reality of the situation revealed. Hard, dirty jobs in factories, kitchens and retail no longer qualify for minimum wage.
The WPP1, WPP2, National Internship and Tús schemes should offer talented young people and the long-term unemployed a break in a harsh economic climate. Instead the decision to not ask for host organisation contributions, or at the very least to means test who the state subsidises, is undermining job creation and aiding the exploitation of those it should be helping.
The argument often put forward to excuse this is that these companies are struggling and they need the advantages that extra staff can bring without the wage burden. An equally callous reply would be that if these companies are struggling so much then perhaps we should let them fold now rather then let them pollute a recovery – a Darwinian example of market capitalism.
Further the atmosphere in which these initiatives are being introduced, with the creeping narrative of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor erodes the foundations of a healthy society. Poverty is rarely self-induced, sought after or desired.
By placing the blame for unemployment on those who experience it we allow the system that created it to go unchallenged. Because if we don’t those of us on the bottom rung, the ones that haven’t emigrated, will be left to mop up the mess; quite literally, for free and in a state subsidised work placement near you.