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We're a group of young people who picket JobBridge businesses. Here's why

Members of youth activist group Work Must Pay explain why they’ve decided to take action.

Work Must Pay

WHAT DO A pharmacy, a pub, a café, a uniform store and hardware shop all have in common? They have all tried to use unpaid JobBridge interns and were convinced otherwise by the #WorkMustPay campaign.

Who are we?

The #WorkMustPay campaign is a small group of young activists campaigning to end JobBridge and the acceptability of unpaid internship culture. We come from a range of groups, including political parties, community groups and trade unions.

While many individuals and groups have challenged the government for using “labour activation” schemes, few have actively confronted the organisations that benefit from the use of free labour. #WorkMustPay challenges businesses that take on unpaid JobBridge interns and try to persuade them to provide all their workers properly.

How do we do that?

We contact businesses that are currently advertising for a JobBridge intern and ask them to take down their JobBridge ads. When they don’t comply, we take our argument to their front door.

Department of Jobs 3 Activists protest outside the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Essentially, we use pickets, chants, leaflets and discussion to encourage such employers to take on no further interns and commit to paying a day’s wage for a day’s work. Due to our focus on precarious workers, the majority of our pickets have been in the retail and services sector.

We’ve fought some hard battles and returned again and again to businesses that use JobBridge as a revolving door for free labour. While we’re a small campaign, about 70% of the businesses we’ve contacted have subsequently removed advertised JobBridge positions.

Why are we opposed to JobBridge?

Our campaign exists because we believe that initiatives such as JobBridge are a flawed solution to unemployment. Firstly, they displace positions that would have provided wage-paying jobs. Secondly, their success in providing interns with training that will help them gain employment afterwards is highly suspect.

A 61% success figure is often bandied about by government representatives to show how many people are put back to work after completing a JobBridge internship. This figure is extremely broad and covers any kind of work – including part-time and temporary contracts for seasonal positions – and hardly represents a permanent improvement in someone’s employment situation.

The 61% figure also includes a large majority of people with a high probability of exiting the live register (PEX) score as well. This means that many of the people counted as success stories are those who would have been likely to find work within a year without having to go through a six- to nine-month unpaid placement beforehand.

Figures provided by other sources are more telling. The National Youth Council of Ireland recently reported that only 27% of JobBridge interns progress to full-time work within a year of finishing their placement.

The group pickets a Dublin restaurant

Even if the so-called official figure is accepted, this means that 39% of JobBridge graduates will not have paid work within a year of completing their internships. And this is if you ignore the fact that large numbers of people do not complete their JobBridge placement and are not included in these statistics. These are often people with a lower PEX score, who have been out of the job market longer and need greater financial and skills support than what is provided.

Community Employment (CE) schemes once played an important role for this cohort, but they are now closed off to the vast majority of people under 25 in favour of forcing them into JobBridge or Gateway programmes.

Source: Trade Union TV/YouTube

Beyond the obvious rationale for JobBridge – as a quick fix to put a positive spin on the live register figures – unpaid internships act as a stepping stone to precarious work by lowering the aspirations of the unemployed and convincing them that even being paid at all is enough to ask for.

By successfully lowering standards to this point, the government has created workers who are so atomised and powerless that demands for improved conditions, sick pay or basic health and safety standards don’t even register.

One only has to consider that at least 16,471 organisations have used at least one JobBridge intern since 2011 to realise how endemic unpaid internship culture has become.

In a recent Freedom of Information request to the Department, the names of over 11,000 of these organisations were released, covering nearly every government department and charity as well as all types of businesses.

Lotts Pub Demonstrators stand outside a city centre pub

Every sector of employment has been affected by the encroachment of unpaid internships as an acceptable form of “training”. Those of us in the campaign refute this idea.

We believe everyone should be paid from the day they start working, whether this is as an entry-level worker or a trainee, because from that moment the organisation involved will be benefiting from their labour. That worker deserves respect, which means a wage to help him or her to live a meaningful and productive life.

Our critics will doubtless point to individual JobBridge success stories to counter our arguments, and these definitely exist, but not for the majority. The primary issue is the employment culture being created through JobBridge, which is changing the very nature of how we work, and not for the better.

#WorkMustPay demands an end to JobBridge, an end to free labour schemes and an end to the exploitation of workers, young and old. If you’d like to join our campaign, you can contact us at workmustpayireland@gmail.com. 

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