PaTH Program: Change in direction welome, especially wage subsidies, but internships must be carefully designed to protect young people

7 May 2016

Responding to media reports, ACOSS confirmed that it has welcomed the Government’s shift away from the compulsory and ineffective work for the dole program towards a focus on real work experience in workplaces for young people who are long-term employed. However, ACOSS reiterates that clear protections must be in place to prevent exploitation of young people, or displacement of jobs.

“Over half a million people who are unemployed long term are at grave risk of being locked out of the labour market. If a long-term unemployed young person gets a job as a result of being given the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities, that’s good for them, good for society, and it also increases employment in the long run,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

Currently, the main form of employment assistance for a young person locked out of a job is compulsory Work for the Dole, which an official evaluation found only improves their chances of securing a real job by 2%. ACOSS has consistently opposed Work for the Dole, and predicted it would fail. We welcome the diversion of almost $500 million towards a new approach based on real work experience in real workplaces.

“Work experience in a regular workplace can make a real difference for people who are out of work a long time and for young people seeking their first job. ACOSS supports pre-employment training as long as it is useful and linked to real job opportunities and wage subsidies to provide paid employment opportunities in real workplaces,” said Dr Goldie.

“The PaTH policy also proposes an internship phase. The internship can be from 4 to 12 weeks, from 15 to 25 hours per week, with a $100 per week payment on top of a young person’s income support payment.”

ACOSS supports internship opportunities for young people who are long term unemployed as long as there are clear protections in place against exploitation and risks of replacing real job opportunities. It is clear that active measures need to be available to help disadvantaged young people locked out of paid work to get real work experience. The lack of experience is a major barrier to improving employment prospects

However, there are real risks that internships can be exploitative. To minimise the risks and maximise the benefits, the internship phase would need to include the following supports, limitations and protections:

  • Internships should only be available to young people who are unemployed for at least 6 months and disadvantaged in the labour market.
  • Participants should receive at least the equivalent of the minimum hourly wage or a training wage where appropriate training is provided. This requires either a cap in the proposed working hours (under 21 hours for a young person on Newstart Allowance) or an increase in the proposed $100 per week additional payment.
  • The health and safety of participants should be assured through work safety assessments, access to insurance, and appropriate monitoring. Reasonable excuse provisions should also apply so young people who are not able to attend the workplace due to illness or other reasonable circumstances are not penalised.
  • Participation in the internships should be truly voluntary, with participants able to opt out at any time without penalty.
  • Participants and sponsoring employers should be mentored to ensure that the placement benefits both parties and any problems are picked up early and resolved. Mentoring must be properly resourced.
  • Displacement of existing workers and the ‘churning’ of interns through the scheme by the same employer should be prevented through placing a limit on the number of placements that do not lead to ongoing employment, and barring employers who have recently laid off workers from participation
  • Formal agreements with employers should be in place, monitored by mentors and the Department of Employment, including ensuring interns are fully informed of their rights and protections.
  • An effective complaints process should be established and adequately resourced. ​

For a more detailed analysis, see ACOSS policy briefing: Youth Jobs PaTH program

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