The Unite young members conference is taking place this week over in England and members from Irish section (including our group) are in attendance putting forward the case for a fighting union that represents all workers. One of the policy motions proposed by the Irish Youth Committee regarded galvanising opposition to unpaid internships from young members in our union and actively making sure they are unacceptable in unionised workplaces. Needless to say we’re chuffed it passed!

Text of the motion passed unanimously:

Policy on Unpaid Internships and Labour Activation Schemes

‘This conference reiterates the commitment of Unite young members to their opposition of forced internships, labour activation schemes and any other government programme which denies our fundamental employment rights. As union researchers have continuously outlined, the use of so-called ‘workfare’ schemes has caused untold hardship for young people across the UK and Ireland; leading to the creation of a working environment where employees are not even guaranteed the basic respect of a minimum wage and precarious positions are standard. This will have long lasting repercussions for the trade union movement. These schemes particularly hit “entry level”, service sector and physical jobs, which are already under attack from ever diminishing wages and apprenticeship rates. We cannot allow this exploitation of the unemployed to continue and we must fight to defend our right to decent terms and conditions across all sectors with a view to achieving a living wage for every worker in the future. Our union, and its members, need to be in the forefront of this struggle.

Therefore, this motion calls for all young Unite members in unionised employment to actively challenge the introduction any unpaid internship in to their workplace through the best means available to them at branch level. This motion also calls for the development of an over-arching strategy for young members, by the National Youth Committee, to challenge labour activation schemes which would be appropriate for the context of both the UK and Irish regions.’

Text of the Speech by the Unite Youth Dublin Representative in Support of the Motion

‘JobBridge is the first unpaid internship scheme in Ireland. It was introduced in 2011 and to date 17,400 companies have used it, that’s not the number of internships that have been advertised as many of these companies will use multiple interns on a nine month basis. A JobBridge intern is simply working for their dole payment plus €50. That works out as €3.75 an hour for a person under 25, the minimum wage in Ireland stands at €8.65.

After the Unite Youth Dublin Group made an FOI request to the DSP we got the names of 11,394 of these companies. These names included reference to every, single governmental department, county councils right the way up to the presidents office. Recently JobBridge policy was written for the Department of Jobs by unpaid state interns.

Others on the list included schools advertising for teachers, hospitals looking for staff and charities of all kinds. Ironically the National Organisation for the Unemployed also uses JobBridge interns. Most damning though were the number of unionised work places using these schemes.

On the back of the success of uptake on this scheme the state is going to introduce a mandatory version of JobBridge called JobPath. Two of the providers of this scheme will be G4S and Seetec, who should be familiar to anyone campaigning against WorkFare as the most punitive with sanctions. To put the scale of this project in perspective the current number of unemployed in Ireland stands at approx. 160,000 people. This scheme proposes 90,000 to 120,000 placements a year.

So this motion has a two pronged approach:

  • The best way to defend conditions of workers in unionised workplaces is to forcefully resist the introduction of these placements.
  • Secondly, it gives confidence to young members and potential members that Unite cares about their issues and is willing to actively campaign on them.

In Dublin, we are already a part of a small campaign called #WorkMustPay and it has been hugely popular with young people on the street and online. A campaign on this issue could be very effective, give voice to youth concerns and increase young membership.

The long and short of it is, unpaid internships devalue both work and the worker, making the fight for a wage, never mind a living one, that much harder and it will be the death of the trade union movement unless we act now.’

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