As part of the federal budget released in May, the Liberals announced an internship program described as a plan “to give thousands of young Australians the opportunity to get into jobs and apprenticeships”. In reality this so-called plan is nothing but a corporate handout scheme that rewards businesses for hiring underpaid interns rather than permanent employees.
The “Prepare-Trial-Hire” (PaTH) program would pay employers up to $10,000 for taking on interns from a pool of under-25 job seekers on government welfare. Participants work up to 25 hours a week to receive an additional fortnightly welfare payment up to $200, or $4 an hour. With Newstart this comes to around $14/hour, still well below the minimum wage of $17.29/hour!
At the end of each 4-12 week internship, businesses could take on a new round of interns. Despite the rhetoric about skilled training, the government’s own budget website uses the example of an intern working on the floor of a supermarket. These are unskilled jobs which could give jobseekers a permanent position on decent pay – instead employers will be given a subsidy to fill them with ‘interns’ at below award wages with no job security.
PaTH would allow companies to replace permanent staff with a revolving door of super-exploited young people, all at the cost of the taxpayer.
While some Labor MPs have made half-hearted criticisms of the PaTH program, the Labor Party in general supports unpaid internships and has not ruled out supporting a similar version of the scheme. A number of Labor MPs have unpaid interns working in their electoral offices. When asked about PaTH on ABC’s Lateline, Labor MP Andrew Leigh even said that they “certainly like the package in general”.
More recently Bill Shorten announced that Labor supported a six month youth traineeship program, paid for by the government. But like the Liberal’s plan this is essentially free money to employers while offering no long term job security to job seekers.
Internships and short term traineeships are no solution to rising levels of youth unemployment. Using interns to complete work that would otherwise be paid pushes other people onto the dole queue. This only shifts the problems rather than solving them. For the bosses schemes like this are a dream come true as the increased competition over remaining paid work drives down wages.
The underlying issue is a crisis of jobs in Australia. A staggering 2.4 million people are currently unemployed or underemployed – almost 20% of the workforce. This figure is set to increase with major job losses looming in the mining, manufacturing and steel industries. PaTH is not a plan for job growth, it is a plan to boost corporate profits at the expense of the dire situation facing young people. Along with other dodgy training schemes it must be opposed.
There is plenty of work that needs to be done in society but the capitalist system is inefficient when in comes to organising this work. This is because it prioritises profit above all else. For example, we are staring down the barrel of a climate crisis. We urgently need investment to build sustainable public transport infrastructure and to rapidly transition to renewable energy. These tasks will require the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.
The capitalist free market is incapable of allocating the resources needed to make this shift happen quickly. This is because the big energy, construction and manufacturing companies are privately owned and controlled. They only invest with short term profits in mind, not the long term interests of people and the planet.
A real plan to tackle youth unemployment would mean public investment in areas like this. Once built, infrastructure like public transport could run as a community service and employ thousands more in service and maintenance roles. This is the best way to deliver genuine job opportunities to young people via properly paid apprenticeships and entry-level employment.
It is the profit motive that lies at the heart of the youth unemployment crisis. That motive can be removed by taking the big corporations into public ownership and under democratic control. Once in public hands a sustainable plan of production could be developed and investment could be directed to where it is most needed.
At the same time the working week could be shortened without a loss in pay to share out available work. This would solve the issue of some people working excessive hours while others struggle to get enough hours.
None of the major parties, including the Greens, support socialist measures like this. On the basis of capitalism the future for young people will indeed be dire. Only the socialist transformation of society will mean decent jobs for all and a living wage for all those who are studying, training or unable to work.
By Jeremy Trott