On the 7th of July, the Unite Regional Youth Committee organised a meeting in the shiny new offices on Abbey street to highlight the hypocrisy of the so-called ‘workfare’ schemes; JobBridge, Gateway and Tús. We were there to provide the following report.
Paul Murphy (Scambridge.ie activist, Unite member and former MEP) was the first to speak and remained true to form by opening with an explanation of Karl Marx’s concept of the reserve army of labour and its role in capitalist economies. He followed by explaining that the government’s so-called ‘recovery’ is based on a two pronged attack which is both:
- Economic: Workfare schemes provide a government subsidy to private sector companies which drives down wages while interns are used in the public sector to bolster overstretched workforces and hide the true impact of the recruitment embargo.
- Ideological: Workfare schemes drive the normalisation of people working for free and present the idea to the public that working for free is a ‘morally right’ thing to do before you’re allowed to gain reasonably paid employment.
Paul Murphy moved on by describing how public attitudes to JobBridge have changed over time due to efforts by Scambridge and others which have helped to raise awareness to a point where it has entered popular culture and general opinion is largely negative. He continued by demonstrating how some unions went from cautiously welcoming the introduction of JobBridge to later calling for its elimination after the full extent of its negative role was known. Now that thousands of people have taken part in these programs, word has spread that people feel undervalued and exploited by their employers in placements that do not provide real experience. Paul Murphy closed by stating that unions need to take a stronger stand against workfare schemes and mobilise people both inside and outside the workplace against this exploitation. Within workplaces; union members need to make it clear to their employers that they will not accept the replacement of real jobs with forced labour and outside them, that unions and activists need to target employers who use JobBridge interns and make it unacceptable for them to make profit out of unemployed workers. Scambridge have recently produced a ‘Real Jobs Programme’ policy document on the alternatives to workfare schemes and this is available here.
The next speaker was Tara Keane, organiser with Mandate and member of the ICTU Youth Committee. Tara outlined how workfare schemes are anti-worker and those taking part in JobBridge would earn little more than €3 an hour and this would fail to cover much more than the costs of transport to and from the workplace and other expenses. Tara highlighted how the mandatory implementation of workfare schemes particularly impacts on women and parents who cannot afford the crèche fees for their children if they are forced to do a full-time internship. She also attacked the idea of JobBridge as ‘training’ when some of the placements (e.g. deli-assistant) do not require 9 months training in order to gain full time employment afterwards. Tara closed by stating that with over 20 applicants for every job in the country, it is not the case that people are not motivated to seek employment but rather that the issue is that there simply aren’t enough jobs available for the numbers of unemployed.
Michael Taft is a Unite research officer, author of Notes from the Front and was the last speaker of the evening. Essentially he focused on how it is rational for employers to take advantage of incentives provided by government; such as the cheap labour provided through workfare schemes and that a lot of businesses have been forced to take advantage of this in order to remain competitive. He noted how the number of people involved in workfare schemes is not large enough to make a major impact on unemployment figures and instead that their primary role is as a do-nothing approach which allows emigration to take its course and reduce the live register numbers while also making the government appear pro-active. Taft described how many in government circles actually believe that unemployment is linked to a lifestyle choice and that workfare projects are needed to ‘motivate’ people into jobs. Going on to outline that Ireland had one of the highest youth employment rates across Europe in 2006 but that this has since fallen to average levels because of the high levels of competition for a small number of jobs. Michael Taft closed by stating that there is an alternative to this misguided approach which would involve paid internships in socially beneficial projects which are integrated with training and funded by the state. This is outlined in far better detail here.
Two of the presentations made by the speakers are now available using the links below:
Unite Youth Dublin are a group of young trade unionists who are involved in political activism and want to build a fighting union which can campaign on progressive issues. We are actively recruiting Unite members so if you’re interested in getting involved then give us a shout by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re not a Unite member and wish to join then please read this page to learn more. We are an informal and independent group that makes decisions collectively, join us to get your voice heard and to begin the process of striking back.