Department reverses JobBridge ban on firms imposed after allegations of assaults and bullying

Department reverses JobBridge ban on firms imposed after allegations of assaults and bullying

It has been revealed by the

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Irish Examiner that the Department of Social Protection has reversed its decision to ban all firms where it was alleged that interns had been assaulted and bullied.

Businesses were barred from using the JobBridge scheme following allegations that interns were assaulted, bullied, had their safety compromised, and were forced to work unfair hours, writes Joe Leogue.

Internal documents from the Department of Social Protection, released to the Irish Examiner, have revealed a litany of complaints against a number of companies using the taxpayer-funded JobBridge scheme.

However, all businesses serving bans from the scheme last November had their suspensions lifted, after the department decided its own guidelines and procedures for investigating complaints “were not robust enough to necessarily comply with fair procedures”.

The U-turn came despite department inspectors originally recommending some companies face “indefinite” bans from using JobBridge.

Internal inspection reports released under the Freedom of Information Act include allegations that:

* At least two interns suffered bullying, with one further claiming to have received harassment or verbal abuse from mentors. In both instances the businesses received six-month bans;

* Interns were forced to work unfair hours, and in one instance an intern was forced to continue to work despite informing superiors of feeling unwell;

* One business locked at least two different interns into the work premises, raising “serious health and safety concerns”, according to an inspector.

One report, only partially released and redacted by the department, outlined an accusation of physical assault.

“A definitive incident occurred and this was admitted by [the company owner],” the report reads.

“While there is [sic] conflicting accounts of this particular incident we would have grave concerns about the nature of the incident.”

Other allegations that led to suspensions include claims that other employees within businesses lost their jobs and were replaced by interns, or had their hours reduced as a result of the company taking on a JobBridge intern.

In another instance, a woman who was the joint managing director of the host business, along with her husband, was hired as an intern and stayed at home, while availing of the JobBridge allowance.

Companies were also disqualified for not providing proper mentoring to trainees; for not having any PAYE-PRSI-paying employees as required by the scheme; and for not having a standard agreement with their intern as to what their duties entailed.

The department refused to reveal the identities of the businesses, saying such a disclosure “could reasonably be expected to result in a material financial loss or prejudice the competitive position” of the firms.

This policy was subject to appeals made to the Office of the Information Commissioner, which in turn led to the suspensions being lifted last November.

At the time of the decision to lift the suspensions, 18 businesses were serving an indefinite ban; two were suspended for 18 months; six were prohibited from using JobBridge for a year; and two were barred from hiring an intern from the scheme for six months.

A total of 86 companies have received some form of ban from the scheme since it began in 2011, but no businesses have received suspensions from JobBridge since the November decision to lift the existing suspensions.

A department spokesperson said the scheme has cost the taxpayer almost €282m, and 15,211 who completed a JobBridge internship progressed into employment immediately on completion of their placement. This represents approximately 32% of the 46,537 people who started an internship under JobBridge. There are 4,005 people on the scheme.

This article first appeared in the

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Irish Examiner today.

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