Figures released by the Sunday Business Post have revealed the shocking extent to which JobBridge, the National Internship Scheme, has been used by top companies and state organisations, with Trinity College Dublin having used the scheme 112 times, one of most prolific exploiters of JobBridge among the educational institutes.
The data, which was obtained by Jack Horgan-Jones of the SBP, shows that the JobBridge scheme has ballooned from 5,000 interns hired in its first year under Joan Burton, the then Minister for Social Protection, to almost 46,500 according to its most recent estimates. College’s Health Sciences Faculty appears to have been particularly eager to use the scheme, with numerous “research assistants” taken on in such advanced research areas as neurology and cancer research.
Fidelma Haffey of the Trinity HR department, responding to questions on College’s use of the scheme stated: “The Trinity experience with this scheme has been a positive one for both mentors and interns. We collect feedback from interns at the end of their placement and it has been consistently positive to date.
“The majority of interns finish the scheme early to take up employment in other organisations having gained practical and valuable experience.
“JobBridge can have a benefit to recent graduates in particular those who are trying to bolster their experience in an increasingly competitive job market. One of the advantages of JobBridge for the intern is that they do not require previous experience to gain a placement. Thereby giving them a competitive edge when they apply for job opportunities within or external to Trinity.”
Shared widely by Third Level Workplace Watch, which campaigns against universities and institutes of technology using the JobBridge scheme to displace paid research and lecturing positions, a spokesperson from the group reflected on the growing problem of “casualisation” in the higher education sector: “It is a huge issue because universities are very keen on increasing their numbers of PhD graduates but at the same time leading the race to the bottom in terms of pay and employment conditions for these graduates.” The JobBridge scheme would appear to provide research institutes with incentives to not provide employment in the fields, disadvantaging young researchers.
Commenting on the data, Ciarán Mac Aon Tuile, an organiser of the Work Must Pay campaign and Connolly Youth Movement member, reacted: “the reports in the Irish Examiner on Monday, April 23 confirm our campaign’s belief that this scheme would be abused by both public and private bodies alike: young people’s mental health is suffering as interns because of the degradation, bullying and harassment they face due to not being considered a proper part of the staff.”
Mac Aon Tuile continued: “Under the JobBridge scheme, which mainly recruits young people, companies have incentives to displace well-paying, often unionised jobs, with unpaid interns who are funded by the public purse. The Department of Social Protection tops up an intern’s dole, resulting in a wage of €3.75 an hour in the week for 40 hours’ work over a contractual minimum of six months.
“Employers are in the business of making profits, and will go to any lengths to do so. Unfortunately, they are not interested in creating decent jobs and this scheme is simply too tempting not to be exploited for a quick buck. The Business Post’s tables bear this out.
He continued: “Young people must educate, agitate and organise around these practices which are becoming norms across modern industries. It is like modern slavery: young people are compelled to put in free labour in an industry to get a foothold on the ladder and cannot turn down these measly offers of work. We are threatened to become the first generation since the Famine to have a standard of living worse than that of our parents”.
The Work Must Pay campaign, Mac Aon Tuile explained, has had numerous victories over small businesses involving noisy protests when bosses refuse to remove their JobBridge ads from the DSP’s website: “Our strategy is effective and raises the profile of the campaign to the general public, who are very sympathetic to our cause. We are a campaign focused on securing wins, a living wage for young people, as well as encouraging trade union and political activity among left-wing groups.”
The “boots on the ground” approach of the campaign would suggest that it is gaining acknowledgement and forging progress on the path to improving young people’s working rights, unlike the Scambridge campaign of Paul Murphy TD, founded immediately after JobBridge was founded, but quickly descended into a social media phenomenon before dying out.
Trinity is among those third level institutions that have used JobBridge most according to the SBP data. University College Cork used the scheme 33 times and Dublin City University used it 16 times. University College Dublin is by the far the biggest third level institution in the data, having used the scheme 181 times.