Saturday, April 12, 2014

JobBridge is symbolic of government’s attitude towards young people

Ireland has faced the greatest economic and social crisis since the foundation of the state and rather than target those responsible – speculators, senior bankers or politicians – our government has thrown the majority of the burden on the shoulders of young people.
  • Youth unemployment stands at approximately 28%.
  • We have the highest net-migration levels in Europe with more than 177,000 young people emigrating since 2008 – tearing local communities apart.
  • Our suicide rate for young people is four times higher than the UK and is the highest in Europe for women and second highest for men.
  • Six people register as homeless every single day in Dublin, many of whom are young people who cannot afford a place to live.
The statistics go on and on but none of them exist in a vacuum, they’re all related and they’re the product of an uncaring political system.

Rather than deal with the crisis facing young people in a positive and caring manner by investing sufficiently, successive Irish governments have chosen to attack their living conditions.

In the last Budget, the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, cut Job Seeker’s Allowance for young people by up to 45 percent  (down to €100 per week) stating that it would incentivise young people to seek jobs – as if they haven’t been looking for employment. The Minister knows only too well there are no jobs out there with 28 applicants for every job advertised. Government representatives then proudly announce – with no sense of shame – that they have protected core social welfare payments. Not for citizens under the age of 26 they haven’t. They’ve savaged them.

Now the government is about to begin the implementation of the much heralded Youth Guarantee, which threatens to cut the social welfare rates even further.

According to the Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan, “Failure to apply for or accept an opportunity on the national internship scheme (JobBridge)” will result in a cut of 25 percent of social welfare rates for young people.

The inconvenient truth is that young JobBridge interns are being paid approximately 56 percent below the ‘at risk of poverty’ rate in Ireland. At €3.75 per hour or €150 per week for a full time job, lots of young people, who do not have a financially secure family to back them up, simply cannot afford to take up the scheme.

They cannot afford the extra financial costs associated with a full time job including transport, food and clothing. I have heard of one person on an internship scheme who has to walk from Tallaght to Dublin City Centre because they cannot afford the price of the Luas. So now our government is forcing young people to work for poverty pay or face an even deeper level of poverty and deprivation through social welfare cuts.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who JobBridge has benefited and there is room for properly planned and independently monitored internship scheme - but the flaws of JobBridge, which supplies free labour to some highly profitable employers, is beyond repair. It’s widely accepted to be a crude mechanism for massaging unemployment statistics under the guise of providing ‘experience’.

Young people are being told, work for less than half the minimum wage and live in poverty or else emigrate. Politicians then have the cheek to say young people are emigrating as a ‘lifestyle choice’ – as the government destroys their living standards.

Young people want to stay in Ireland but they need real jobs to allow them to do so. They know the current provision of questionable internship schemes isn’t the only game in town and there is a jobs alternative. The private sector is refusing to hire so the obvious alternative is the public sector. Unfortunately, this is where there’s a lack of political will.

The public sector recruitment embargo has been in place since April 2009 and remains; meaning the largest employer in the state has barely hired any young people for five years. The government could tax wealth in order to create decent jobs for young people but amazingly, rather than invest in combating the youth crisis; the government is now proposing tax cuts which are likely to benefit the top 30 percent of earners. How is this going to help our young people or tackle the youth crisis?

Young people are waking up to the fact they have been easy targets in the past. They know that they are targeted because they don’t vote in the numbers that older people do and they can be incentivised to emigrate easier than other demographics – shamefully, without the opportunity to hold politicians accountable due to a lack of overseas voting.

However, campaigns like the ‘We’re Not Leaving’ campaign and a whole variety of civil society and trade union groups representing young people are organising and politicising. Many of them are supporting a major demonstration against mandatory internship scheme’s including JobBridge at 3pm at the Central Bank in Dublin today.

The call is clear: young people deserve better. They don’t want forced labour; they want real jobs with real pay and a real future. With the European and local elections coming up in June, ignore them at your peril.

By David Gibney
Mandate Youth

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