In 2013 the Department of Social Protection commissioned a report by Indecon International Economic Consultants to evaluate the effectiveness of the JobBridge internship programme. When evaluating labour activation measures, such as JobBridge, the three main issues of concern according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are the following:
- Deadweight- this is the participation of young people in the scheme who would have found paid employment without it.
- Substitution- this is companies replacing paid staff with the unpaid interns
- Displacement- this is the loss of jobs in other enterprises due to the competitive advantage given to organisations using the internship programme (O’Higgins 2001, 111)
Shockingly the Indecon report did not deal with the issue of displacement at all, not even briefly mentioning it. The potential problem of substitution were detailed briefly, with Indecon asserting that it was openly admitted by 3 per cent of employer respondents but claiming a thorough examination was outside their remit (Indecon 2013, 89). The fact that the Indecon report failed to collect data on the problems of displacement or substitution seems inexcusable in relation to a programme that now affects over five thousand workers in our economy and is mandatory for those under twenty five.
In effect, nobody actually knows the real number of jobs that have been replaced with internships or has any empirical data on the competitive advantage that companies gain by embracing this free labour scheme. The only logical conclusion for this methodological incompetence (which ignores international best practice) is that either the Department of Social Protection deliberately instructed Indecon not to compile this data, or Indecon did not know how to gather it. Either, or both, could be true.
Organised labour and free work schemes
Many on the Left have an ideologically driven opposition to labour activation measures. Claiming, with significant justification, that they are inherently open to abuse and devalue the position of all paid labour. However, in the Nordic countries where labour activation has been the least damaging to the wider economy, trade union involvement in labour activation design has led to better outcomes for participants and more appropriate training plans (O’Higgins 2001, 150). However, no trade union was able to secure a place on the JobBridge steering committee, even though positions have gone to IBEC, the Irish Small Firms Association (ISFA) and even the GAA (Indecon 2103, 4). This is despite a Labour minister being in charge of its design and implementation. This lack of involvement might have been admirable if it had come from a position of principled opposition to an enforced and unpaid labour scheme for unemployed youth. But it is more an indictment of the weak position of organised labour within Ireland. Unsurprisingly, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has been notably silent on the problems with JobBridge scheme; for reasons that are obvious.
As predicted by those on the Left, the JobBridge scheme has distorted the labour market to such an extent that there is becoming a dearth of entry level positions in our economy. With many employers using JobBridge to replace what used to be fully paid entry level positions on short term contracts. Or, at best, using it as a 6 to 9 month long state subsidised interview process. Our labour market for young workers increasingly resembles that of the United States, where working for free or for little pay as an intern is becoming an essential part of a modern curriculum vitae (Perlin 2012, 63). JobBridge is part of this creeping spread of neoliberal values which devalues the dignity of both work, and those unable to find work. JobBridge is not just morally wrong but wrong in its conception, design, implementation and evaluation. To become part of the resistance to this injustice, join the #workmustpay campaign.
For some further reading: