In rabble#1 we explored the theme of internships and how the Irish unions were responding to them. Here’s the full transcript of our interview with John Douglas, head of Mandate.
So, dressing up a job which requires one day, two days training during the good days into a job which is going to require an internship for six or nine months, is probably quite difficult to do. But its not beyond the inegenuity of some employers to come up with, appropriate wording and language to make the job sound like a brain surgeon or a scientist but I haven’t seen them as yet, too many of them.
Though I did notice, on some of the sections of the things that some of the titles they give these jobs are very inventive: marketing consultant, marketing executive, online sales advisor and so on. A lot of employers are very inventive when it comes to creating the aura that there is a great mystery behind a job, and you have to spend 6 months training or 9 months in an internship to do it. That’s one of the things that hit me when I looked at it.
Is it something Mandate is only becoming aware of, the extent to which these internships are becoming prevalent?
Ah no we were aware of them, ah we were aware of them and have been very skeptical from the very start. The trade union movement broadly gave a cautious gaurded welcome to any initiative that would get people off the dole, right? But we have been through these scenarios before, where a lot of these short term projects, back to work schemes etc have developed a very bad reputation among unemployed workers who are looking for work.
They ran into cul de sacs with bad employers. Now I am not saying every employer on the Jobs bridge is a bad employer. There are probably very good employers out there that want to offer people the chance to train and see what it is like, and there is lots of people out there that would welcome the opportunity to try something for six or seven months, see if they liked the job or the field, did they have the skills, is it what they thought it was.
So there is that breaking the cycle of continuously unemployment, and I guess thats where the name comes from. But my own bar-room type information at the moment is that there is a lot of unemployed workers who really see it as a way of making people work for their dole really, they are paid fifty euros over and above their social welfare and its not really a big margin to say you are not working for your dole. And the vast majorit of employers, wont’t and are not allowed give employees top ups. So, the scheme could fall into disrepute fairly quickly.
You mentioned that you had seen this all before in the 1980s, with the previous recession, the only scheme I can think of is the CE scheme…?
There was ones before that, various back to work ones. Job Fair in the Uk…
Yeah, and they all ran into the same type of problems. The problems with displacement, with some employers being rogue employers who used this as a means of getting their hands on cheap labour. And you know, are the jobs there?
If the union movement has historical experience, and some international awareness of such schemes which people term “workfare” – then why would they have issued even a cautious welcome to it? Surely if its displacing workers and making people work for free….
Well, its not proven that its displacing workers at the moment, but I’m talking from Mandates position not the whole trade union movement. We be very skeptical in the retail trade, the sector we deal in and there are other service sectors such as hotels, and restaruants, and cleaning where we would be extremely skeptical of where these back to work schemes are appropriate. Because when there was jobs available, there was no massive training or great input from the employer. So how come now they are going to turn these jobs into 6 month or 9 month training modules and turn them into an internship?
At the end of the day what they are accessing is a cheap pair of hands, and the trade union movement would broadly welcome anything that would try and get people back from a situation where they are on the dole long term. But the only way you do that is by creating an economy where you create really jobs, and trying to massage unemployment figures by forcing or enticing people back to work with 50e extra a week. I don’t think that is going to work.
Long term, unless the economy creates real jobs, you know these schemes are doomed for failure. They may provide some experience, some confidence buidling mesaures, they may provide some outlet for people to try work in the retail sector. Or ‘Id like to try work in the cleaning section, the hotel sector, the marketing sector’ and then say ‘I really didn’t fancy that, I tried that for six months I’ve been on the Jobbridge scheme, I’m going to do something else, I’ll put my skills or CV in a different direction.’ In that regard it may suit some people.
What do you think of the argument from a lot of employers, that they can’t sustain real job creations on real wages and that the internship schemes help them stay in business?
Cheap labour is the word for that. That’s the real subtext to that…
Again in one way it looks like those employers that need such cheap labour are benefiting from a subsidy that the state is facilitating from a generation of young people whose first experience within their profession or outside of school is to work for free?
Oh I can understand why many young people would be sceptical. People were sold the lie and the dream, you know ‘go to college, get your education and the world is your oyster’ and then the first opportunity they get when they come out of college with their degree or technical qualification is to be told ‘you have to work for nothing now, or basically next to nothing or we’ll sign you off the dole.’
So I mean I can understand the degree of skepticism out there from a lot of younger people, and I understand frankly why people are voting with their feet to avoid these jobs, and frankly why the are voting with their feet and even emigrating. If employers can’t create real jobs then whats the point in creating dummy jobs?
If this is to become wide spread, has Mandate or any other union started to look at protocols around how to engage with people if they enter a workforce where you are organised and maybe on one of the schemes?
I suppose no. We haven’t developed any protocol, as I say we haven’t seen vast numbers coming into our sectors yet. But they would be welcomed into trade union membership, what we can do is give people advice, make sure they are treated properly, makes sure they are getting all their entitlements in terms of their rights, make sure they are not abused. That would be up to our own activists on the ground to make that happen.
In reality, if someone comes in, or one or two people come in, on a work programme of some description, the reality is that they are going to feel very isolated. They are probably going to feel not part of the real workforce because they are going to see everyone else getting proper wages, proper conditions. So its a huge ask for a workforce…I mean I’m sure that workers would treat people fairly, that’s not an issue but it’s just he isolation factor. And the fact that you are working beside someone doing exactly the same job, and that person is getting the rate for the job and you are getting your social welfare plus 50e a week. I don’t know if that would motivate you a hell of a lot quite frankly, unless there is a genuine, genuine training and ups killing element of it. It would be very interesting to see the end of the first few months of it…where are we now?
Probably coming up to the end of the first round of people on them….
Is it? It’d be very interesting, and I don’t know if they are going to keep the statistics on it. It’d be very inteinteresting see how many of the hundreds, if not thousands will be offered employment in the host companies. I think there is a three month moratorium.
Yeah, you can only do one in a two year period.
Yeah, you can only do it…the employer can only offer internship in the same field, in the same area after another three months. I don’t think they can do back to back internships, to the best of my knowledge, so it will be interesting to see how many of the initial tranche of interns get offered permanent employment or are employers going to simply churn them, and churn them and churn them. It’d be interesting to see if anyone keeps those type of statistics and will they publish those type of statistics.
That will give you a real indication if there are real jobs there and if it is a real training initiative, and is it a two way street with employers having a six month look at somebody with the real prospect of giving them a job or is it really just a way of churning numbers through a system and off the dole.
In the UK the concern around internships is that someone coming out of college who wants to do one of the glamor careers like media or journalism, might have parents to sustain them when they go and work for free for a company in London, with its costs of geographical re-location. Someone from a lower socio-economic background can’t sustain themselves in a similar internship, so social mobility decreases. But in Ireland one of the odd things about these internships is that it means , people say, who previously couldn’t go ‘devil’ in law can now do that and claim social welfare. So in one way it is a bit of a leveler. But they are taking some court cases over there as testers, the NUJ have done it – around people doing interships and not getting paid. Why would the union movement wait to see how these interns come out, surely at the heart of the union movement there is a philosophy around a fair days pay for a fair days work? And working for social welfare really takes away that right and erodes it.
Franky I don’t think anyone should work for their social welfare. I do believe that there may very well be a place for schemes that help people off the dole. But that’s training schemes, and schemes that have a real job in mind. The problem is when you have unemployment running at 14 and 15 % and you have the types of jobs which are been advertised as I said earlier, its quite clear that a lot of employers are targetting these as cheap pairs of hands and as such we would be very critical of that.
For employers who are targetting potenial employees, then you could be less critical of those. But I still honestly believe there are ways for employers to target potential employees, which they have done for many years, during the boom times and before through probabtion periods, real jobs you know with the potentail of a job at the end of it. And unions would be very critical of people working for nothing. Certainly Mandate would. Particularly in the retail trade where we work. The Superquinns and the Dunnes and Tescos of this world would train a shop assistant in 48 hours max. So there is no need for 6 months in an internship to learn how to put beans on a shelf or to hang clothes on a rack. So if there was a vast influx of these type of retail jobs, catering jobs, hotel jobs it certainly would set off alarm bells with in my organisation.
That’s why we are watching in terms of what jobs go up there. I know a lot of the jobs are glamourised in the title. But wheter that is a way of dressing them up, mutton as lamb and they are glamorised as some sort of sexy type job to attract a certain cohort of people into it who are maybe prepared to work for nothing for 6 months if they get the title of being a sales manager executive of a junior telesales executive or a marketing executive. I watch the grandiose titles and I wonder what the realities behind the titles are. Does it live up to it? So when you go into the jobs are you an office junior in reality? Are you working in the mail room? Are you sticking stamps on envelopes? I’m not too sure whether the follow up cross checking is there in relation to those. I suspect that a lot of those fancy titles behind them is very very basic jobs that really just require a pair of hands and someone to turn up and they could really lead to displacement.
But this is something that Mandate members and activists would be watching? Like the unions could play a role as a counter-watch dog or balance.
Well we’ve alerted all our shop stewards at the moment in all the places we have members, we have advised them that if new employees come in and they’d only ever be introduced as new employeers, under any of these schemes to make sure they are treated properly, to make sure they are not being exploited and to make sure they are not displacing jobs. If there is real job vacancies, that they are not being filled by these jobs programmes. And we saw employers employing people, large numbers of people, I know there is limits on the number that they can employer but look at a major mulitple in Ireland and they could have 120 locations, that’s potentially 3-400 workers you could access for basically nothing. So that is a concern, and a concern that real jobs and not being displaced and our members are giving us advice and we’ll very strongly take up the cudgel around any workers being exploited or any company who is attempting to use this scheme to cricumvent employnet rights or giving people real jobs.
Is there any parallels between what’s going on with the internships and say the erosion of the JLCs and the EROs?
Ah totally, its all part of the same agenda, they call it flexibility and they call it competitiveness what they really want to do is dumbdown the work force in terms of wages and conditions of employment, to make it cheaper labour – thats the subtext of the IMF deal, of what Richard Bruton did with the JLCs is just to demolish terms and conditions of employment and just to put those terms and conditions of employment back twenty or thirty years in the ideological belief that some how that is going to create loads of jobs. Now if that as true, you know if you slash the minimum wage 50% and made it 4e an hour, well then employment should be solved in 24 hours – but thats not gong to happen, thats a failed theory. I don’t think you can take this whole internship issue and look at it in splendid isolation, I think it is a product of the mismanagement of the economy. its a product of a banking system and a capitalist system gone mad which has now imploded on itself and this is just one example of it trying to plug the many leaks in the damn.
And I just thnk its sad that for all the things that have happened, and for all the people in the banks, the property speculators the hedge funds, when it boils down to it, its real ordinary people young and old, who are Paying with either no job, with cuts in their welfare rates, with being forced onto workfare schemes, who will pay with not be given an option. You have to see it in context, its part of the cut back on the JLCs and the rates and conditions there, its all part of the bigger agenda – its linked in with the IMF and the EU. You can’t seperate it out. They would like you to separate it out, to think that it is a very positive iniative that we are doing something to help the unemployed. Reality is I suppose its giving employers more and more flexibility.
I’ll just ask you one more question. If you had to address yoing people that are on these schemes, what advise wpuld you give to someone who is facing going on to one of these schemes?
Well my word of advice is if you are forced onto one of these schemes, to make sure you are not being exploited, to make sure you are treated fairly, you can contact your local union office who will give you advice in relation to your rights, your entitlements. We will ensure that you are treated fairly. But ultimately young people , the power is in their own hands at the end of the day I mean they’ve got to combine, they’ve got to have a collective voice, they’ve got to basically fight back and say this is not what we went to college for, this is not what we have our trade for, this is a way of exploiting a large group of workers, potential workers and that’s very unfair. Its panic stations at the moment, 14/15% of the population unemployed, another three austerity budgets. If this government takes another three billion out of the economy, or four billion in December, the domestic economy will collapse, that will force more on to the dole, less consumer demand, more pressure on finance, and three more budgets of that? Frankly I think the medicene is killing the patient and what we need is real work, real job and real investment in jobs and not more shrinking of the economy.