Un­paid in­tern­ships.

With young job­seek­ers be­ing en­cour­aged to sign up to the PaTH in­tern­ship pro­gram, com­pa­nies are ben­e­fit­ing from free labour and a gov­ern­ment sub­sidy. The ques­tion is, what are the in­terns gain­ing? By Cather­ine Bouris.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week / Contents - Cather­ine Bouris

Let’s call her Alice. She is still look­ing for a job and has asked not to use her real name.

Alice is 23. She has a bach­e­lor’s de­gree as well as a diploma. De­spite these qual­i­fi­ca­tions, she has spent months look­ing for work. Be­cause she re­ceives a New­start Al­lowance, she was signed up to the gov­ern­ment’s PaTH pro­gram this year – an in­tern­ship scheme in which busi­nesses are paid to take on free labour, its name drawn from the phrase Pre­pare, Trial and Hire.

Cen­tre­link re­ferred her to a job agency, which re­ferred her for in­ter­views with sev­eral busi­nesses that had signed up to par­tic­i­pate in the gov­ern­ment’s con­tro­ver­sial pro­gram. These in­cluded a three-month ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant in­tern­ship, a month-long house­keep­ing in­tern­ship and a six-week food prepa­ra­tion in­tern­ship at a frozen food fac­tory.

In ad­di­tion to at­tend­ing these in­ter­views, Alice has to un­der­take myr­iad other tasks: ap­ply for at least 20 jobs a month, meet her case­worker to prove she has been look­ing for work, and at­tend cour­ses con­ducted by the agency. One such course ran for three days, and con­sisted of mock job in­ter­views and a trainer who com­plained about young peo­ple steal­ing all the jobs. While in the of­fice with her case­worker, she is ex­pected to spend time search­ing for jobs – not ap­ply­ing for them, just look­ing them up. De­spite the prom­ise of a ded­i­cated case­worker, she has met a dif­fer­ent case­worker each time she has vis­ited the job agency.

Alice de­scribes one of the worst ex­pe­ri­ences she had with a case­worker: “I had to miss an ap­point­ment once be­cause my dog had can­cer and I had to take her to the vet, and the woman I spoke to was aw­ful about it. The way she spoke to me about miss­ing an ap­point­ment, it was like I was a crim­i­nal. I’ve never had any­one speak to me that way be­fore.”

As an un­der­grad­u­ate look­ing for paid work, I sent out more than 20 job ap­pli­ca­tions a week, largely for re­tail and hos­pi­tal­ity po­si­tions. Through­out the course of my three-and-a-half-year de­gree, I heard back from fewer than 10. It wasn’t un­til I switched tac­tics and be­gan ap­ply­ing for un­paid in­tern­ships that I started get­ting re­sponses to my re­sumés and cover let­ters. This was the first time I had the thought: what if my labour isn’t worth pay­ing for?

Since July 2015 – the fi­nal se­mes­ter of my de­gree – I have un­der­taken more than 700 hours of un­paid work for nine or­gan­i­sa­tions, seven of which were me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions. Two asked me to come in for a one-day trial, only to tell me I wasn’t a good fit af­ter I spent the day tran­scrib­ing and do­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive tasks. One agreed to a three-month in­tern­ship, only to tell me there wasn’t enough work for me af­ter I asked to cut back from two days a week to one, in or­der to bet­ter man­age my other in­tern­ship and full-time univer­sity course load.

Al­most all of these in­tern­ships fea­tured a lot of ad­min­is­tra­tive work – up­load­ing con­tent to web­sites, up­dat­ing spread­sheets, sort­ing prod­ucts, fil­ing press re­leases. Un­der the Fair Work

Act, un­paid in­tern­ships are only law­ful if they: ben­e­fit the in­tern more than the com­pany, are un­der­taken as part of an ed­u­ca­tional course, and do not re­quire the in­tern to per­form tasks that would other­wise be per­formed by a paid em­ployee. In­terns Aus­tralia also warns in­terns to be “wary of spe­cific tasks and dead­lines” – these sug­gest the in­tern­ship is more than ob­ser­va­tional.

These guide­lines do not ap­ply to in­tern­ships un­der­taken through the gov­ern­ment’s PaTH pro­gram. Young job­seek­ers are placed in in­tern­ships as house­keep­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tants and baris­tas. The gov­ern­ment ar­gues that this is about “get­ting our youth off wel­fare and into work” and that “the best form of wel­fare is a job”.

PaTH is de­scribed by the gov­ern­ment as a “vol­un­tary in­tern­ship” pro­gram. Af­ter un­der­tak­ing six weeks of in­ten­sive em­ploy­a­bil­ity skills train­ing, un­em­ployed peo­ple un­der the age of 25 can con­tact a job agency to be placed in an in­tern­ship. They will then be paid

$200 a fort­night on top of their reg­u­lar Cen­tre­link pay­ments. Busi­nesses that take on PaTH in­terns will re­ceive $1000 ini­tially, and up to $10,000 over six months if they then of­fer the in­terns a paid po­si­tion at the end of the four- to 12week in­tern­ship pe­riod.

The pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian Coun­cil of Trade Unions, Ged Kear­ney, con­demned PaTH, say­ing: “This is a pro­gram which runs con­trary to ev­ery­thing we know works best to ad­dress youth un­em­ploy­ment and skills short­ages.” Lu­cas Walsh, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at Monash Univer­sity, ex­pressed con­cerns about the “mes­sage this sends to young peo­ple about the value of their labour”, and added that mea­sures such as the PaTH pro­gram “are only ef­fec­tive if qual­ity, mean­ing­ful work is avail­able at the end of the in­tern­ship”.

The gov­ern­ment re­cently an­nounced a deal with the Aus­tralian Ho­tels As­so­ci­a­tion in which the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor will pro­vide 10,000 po­si­tions for PaTH in­terns in ex­change for $10 mil­lion. This deal will pro­vide the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor with cheap labour that it could not get by hir­ing job­seek­ers them­selves, and will make it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for job­seek­ers not en­rolled in the pro­gram to find work. Why pay some­one $20 an hour when you can get paid to have them work for free?

At the time of writ­ing, Pedes­trian.TV’s jobs sec­tion lists 12 pages of un­paid in­tern­ships – more than 130 po­si­tions.

Pedes­trian’s au­di­ence skews slightly younger than that of other job search sites, such as Seek and In­deed, and it has be­come a key site for or­gan­i­sa­tions to list un­paid po­si­tions.

Some of the list­ings are fla­grant vi­o­la­tions of the Fair Work Act. Some are so out­ra­geous I have posted them on so­cial me­dia and emailed the com­pany ad­ver­tis­ing. While the posts have reached thou­sands, I am yet to re­ceive a re­sponse from any of the com­pa­nies.

Take this list­ing for a “ware­house as­sis­tant in­tern­ship” at a cloth­ing la­bel, which lists the tasks the in­tern will per­form: or­gan­is­ing stock, stock­take, con­sign­ing sam­ples, steaming clothes, data en­try, ad­min, pack­ing or­ders and gen­eral ware­house du­ties. How many of those tasks ben­e­fit the in­tern more than the la­bel?

An­other, at mag­a­zine publisher Bauer Me­dia, asks an in­tern to come in from Mon­day to Fri­day, 10am to 3pm, for two weeks, to com­plete “gen­eral ad­min du­ties”. Don’t worry, the list­ing says, it is “a great step­ping stone that could lead to more in­tern­ships with other Bauer mag­a­zine ti­tles”.

The Fair Work Om­buds­man has an anony­mous re­port­ing tool for abuses of un­paid labour. But since

April last year, the om­buds­man has re­ceived only 17 anony­mous re­ports com­plain­ing about “un­paid or to­ken pay” in­tern­ships in the print, me­dia and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try. Of those 17, six were no­ti­fy­ing the om­buds­man’s of­fice about ad­ver­tise­ments for in­terns via third par­ties such as Pedes­trian, Seek and In­deed.

De­spite se­nate in­quiries, it is not clear that the gov­ern­ment is al­to­gether con­cerned about the ris­ing num­ber of un­paid po­si­tions be­ing ad­ver­tised across Aus­tralia. If any­thing, the roll­out of the PaTH pro­gram con­trib­utes to an at­ti­tude of un­der­valu­ing the work of young peo­ple, and ex­pect­ing young peo­ple, stu­dents and job­seek­ers to per­form what is usu­ally paid work for free.

When it was first an­nounced, PaTH was ridiculed for de­scrib­ing things such as work­ing as a barista or cashier as “in­tern­ships”, but the pro­gram has now been im­ple­mented, and young job­seek­ers are be­ing en­cour­aged to work in re­tail and hos­pi­tal­ity roles for free, all in an ef­fort to com­bat ris­ing youth un­em­ploy­ment rates.

Soon, no­body un­der the age of 25 will tech­ni­cally be un­em­ployed; in­stead, we’ll all be jump­ing from in­tern­ship to in­tern­ship, mak­ing lat­tes and fill­ing out spread­sheets.

Alice re­cently found a job in­ter­view by her­self, and let her case­worker know she would not be able to at­tend an in­tern­ship in­ter­view be­cause they clashed. The case­worker rep­ri­manded her for go­ing out­side the PaTH sys­tem, say­ing, “How do you know if this job is

• per­ma­nent?”

CATHER­INE BOURIS is a free­lance writer, post­grad­u­ate me­dia stu­dent and cre­ator of the Young Aus­tralian Writ­ers Face­book group.

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