Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Question 2: To ask the Minister for Social Protection her views on whether the public can have confidence that the steering committee appointed to monitor the jobbridge scheme will work objectively and independently to prevent exploitation, displacement and abuse in view of the fact the committee chair is CEO of a company that is enjoying the benefits of having eight interns under the scheme. [36440/11]
JobBridge, the national internship scheme came into operation on 1 July 2011. As of Friday, 18 November a total of 2,712 individuals had commenced an internship and there were a further 2,591 internships available to be filled. JobBridge is a Government scheme, which is being administered by the Department of Social Protection in line with normal accounting procedures. I have appointed a steering group chaired by Mr. Martin Murphy, managing director of Hewlett Packard Ireland. The steering group, which has my full confidence, contains representatives from Glen Dimplex, the National Youth Council of Ireland, my Department, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and FÁS.
The steering group has played a leading role in the promotion of JobBridge to the business community and has been a key factor in securing its very welcome support and participation in the scheme. Companies participating in the scheme, including HP, are providing interns with opportunities to secure invaluable work experience that will enhance their employability. Hewlett Packard's participation in JobBridge is a sign of its commitment to and belief in the value of the scheme and the vital support it will offer thousands of jobseekers.
All organisations participating in the JobBridge scheme are required to abide by the criteria of the scheme, including the specific measures which have been designed to prevent the abuse of the scheme by employers, protect the intern from exploitation and ensure the integrity of the JobBridge scheme. The scheme provides valuable talent to employers based on the enthusiasm, energy and application of the intern. The conditions include the following: that the internship does not allow the intern to work unsupervised; that the internship is not displacing an employee; and that the intern accrues significant experience throughout the entire internship.
In addition, all host organisations must comply with the monitoring requirements of the scheme, including completion of the monthly compliance reports and the standard internship agreement with their interns. This agreement clearly stipulates the terms of the internship and states the specific learning outcomes the intern will receive over the course of his or her internship.
I had not intended naming the person in question but the Minister has already done so.
Six weeks ago I debated the JobBridge issue with the Minister and at the time I provided many examples of blatant exploitation and job displacement under the scheme at that time. I urged her to acknowledge that the scheme disincentivises job creation and facilitates the equivalent of slave labour. She dismissed it at the time but I am again asking questions about the scheme. Is the Minister satisfied that the steering committee is chaired by the managing director of Hewlett Packard, whom she mentioned earlier? She mentioned that Hewlett Packard is participating in the scheme and has at least eight free workers courtesy of the scheme. Does the Minister not accept this represents a clear conflict of interest between the person chairing the steering committee and the objective of the scheme? Does she not accept that the company of the man charged by her with impartially monitoring JobBridge is actively benefiting from such a scheme?
The Minister's party is often regarded as the political sister of the trade union movement. The law in this State specifically obliges trade union recognition. Is she aware that Hewlett Packard is one of the most anti-union companies operating in the country? Is she aware that Hewlett Packard routinely refuses to recognise trade unions to the extent that in an outsource and transfer situation members of the Irish Bank Officials Association, IBOA, were forced to take industrial action to get recognition from Hewlett Packard. Does she still stand over that appointment?
The Deputy continually seems to take a negative view of opportunities that have now been made available to 2,700 mostly young people to get a foot on the ladder of employment. Some weeks ago I launched a scheme whereby through Job Skills engineers who had lost their jobs in the construction industry were getting a new chance at employment and switching over to working in medical devices and related areas of activity.
Countries such as Germany, which have managed to keep their unemployment rates much lower than here, have a variety of initiatives that allow people to gain vital work experience. Only last week the Deputy's colleague in the Seanad, Senator Ó Clochartaigh, lamented that lone parents in his area could not access the scheme and he asked me to open the scheme to a wider group of people. I understand why the Senator would have wanted it: the feedback from JobBridge is quite positive. We have been evaluating it on a continual basis and want all the leading Irish companies involved, including the company the Deputy mentioned, because it gives a chance to a person who could not otherwise get a foot into the door of employment.
I would love to have a proper internship scheme, similar to what exists in other countries. However, we do not have the proper procedure here to date. That is why I have highlighted some of the negative experiences and abuse of the scheme. I have repeatedly asked for changes. I will give an example.
Is the Minister aware that according to the JobBridge website and her responses to me six weeks ago, the purpose of the scheme is to provide experience to people who cannot get a job because they do not have experience? However, various internship advertisements on the website unashamedly pronounce that two to four years' experience is required to get a position. How can she square that circle? They cannot, on the one hand, claim that this is to gain experience and on the other hand prevent people from getting the internship because they do not have two to four years' experience.
Does the Minister accept that there is a real problem with the scheme? Is she aware that in 2010 the US Department of Labor produced six criteria covering internships? One of those criteria provides that the employer can only get an intern for free if it derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. This is designed to ensure that the internship must be a benevolent act by the employer and not exploitation.
The scheme that operates north of the Border, where the Deputy's party is a participant in government, and in the UK is far less advantageous to the intern. The Deputy must realise that to open up the possibility of getting work again, people who are now coming out of training having changed direction because the construction sector in which they had been working hard has collapsed, need to get experience. The return to employers is that they get the initiative, enthusiasm and energy of the person seeking to gain work experience in the area. There is a win-win for both parties.
The Deputy has employed people and knows employers put in significant effort when taking somebody on, in terms of the training, working with them and identifying what they will do. Employers make a commitment with the State continuing to pay the person's social welfare plus an additional €50. It is not for everybody, but for some people it represents potentially extremely valuable experience. I hope the Deputy will gradually come to appreciate that.