Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Kevin Donoghue’s comments come following revelations in yesterday’s Irish Examiner that employers were accused of assaulting and bullying interns, as well as making them work unfair hours and using them to replace paid employees.
Mr Donoghue said the details contained within internal documents released to this newspaper came as no surprise to the USI, which had experienced “general frustration” with the scheme.
“Individually there have been some success stories, but only a handful in reality,” Mr Donoghue said of JobBridge.
“Yet politicians use those individual cases, small as they may be, as vindication of the scheme.
“In my opinion, JobBridge is one of the worst things to happen to young people in Ireland for decades, because it proliferates a negative working environment for many.”
Mr Donoghue said while there are thousands of good employers out there, the scheme allows unscrupulous businesses to abuse it. He said it is now time for JobBridge to be abolished by the incoming government.
“The choice is simple for the new government: Allow JobBridge to continue to exist or work on behalf of young people,” he said.
The outgoing USI president was critical of the six-month bans handed down to two businesses which were accused of bullying interns.
“The fact that so many companies violated and exploited JobBridge and are now back on the scheme is indicative that it is more concerned with the numbers than with the welfare of interns,” said Mr Donoghue.
“It is also hugely concerning, considering some were found to have bullied interns, that some businesses weren’t off the list full stop.
“There shouldn’t be just a slap on the wrist. To turn around to two employers who bullied staff and say ‘wait six months and have a go at it again’ is outrageous,” he said.
One of the reports seen by this newspaper revealed an intern’s relief at being released from working with the host business, which had given her no training or mentoring through her internship.
“Intern is relieved to be given ‘an easy way out of getting out of this internship’. States that she was afraid to leave of her own accord and suspects that her reputation in this particular industry would be seriously damaged if she attempted to do so,” wrote the inspector.
Mr Donoghue said the fear experienced by this intern is indicative of wider concerns among young people.
“There is a chronic fear among young people in some industries who think ‘if I’m not willing to work for six or nine months for nothing, will I get a job?’” he said.
Meanwhile, the Anti Austerity Alliance has called for the businesses who received suspensions under the scheme to be “named and shamed”.
“We warned that incidents like these would happen but were told ad nauseam by the previous government that there were strict enforcement rules,” said TD Paul Murphy.
“However, now it has come to light that all the companies who were banned have had their suspensions lifted. So there has been no punishment for the companies while the interns have been abused. If an employee brought an employer to the Workplace Relations Commission the company would be named, the same should apply here, and all banned companies should be named and shamed.”