Job Bridge didn’t have enough checks to stop exploitation

Employers were able to hire Job Bridge staff without the Department of Social Protection validating that the intern position wasn’t replacing a real job, according to an internal audit.

Nobody in the Department of Social Protection was routinely checking companies’ applications to hire interns under Job Bridge against recent redundancy payments made by these same applicant companies.

Job Bridge, which was set up at the height of the recession to give work experience to the unemployed, was shut down by Minister Leo Varadkar in May of this year.

At the time, Mr Varadkar, described the Job Bridge scheme as “successful” but that labour market conditions had changed.

According to Department of Social Proteciton auditors, this failure to check redundancy payments against Job Bridge applications meant that companies could lay someone off and later seek to have that same position completed by an intern for just €52 per week on top of their dole payment.

The report’s authors noted that “employers make a statement on their application that the intern is not displacing a job vacancy,” but “it is not possible to verify whether or not the internship is displacing a potential job vacancy”.

The unpublished report, seen by RTÉ’s This Week, showed that initial applications to join Job Bridge by a company were all based on self declaration and weren’t subject to external checks.

It found just under a quarter of the companies had honestly declared the number of employees they had. The number of employees a company had was directly related to the number of interns they were allowed to take on.

Of the 80 cases examined, just 14 of them had supplied employer numbers that matched with the last P35 return on central records.

The auditors also found no checks were made by the Department into whether employing companies had appropriate public or employer’s liability insurance.

The report recommended that procedures be put in place to check that ‘host companies’ fulfill eligibility criteria rather than depend solely on self-declaration.

In its official response to the audit, department management said it believed self-declaration was “proportionate” and “appropriate” but it would make some amendments to the system of monitoring..

According to the department, the report was not shown to the Minister on conclusion in March as there were “no outstanding issues”. It was presented to an internal audit committee.

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