Applications for the government's PaTH -- prepare, trial, hire -- "internship" program for young welfare recipients opened on Tuesday, and the scheme has drawn the ire of unions after the car and flooring industries said they would gladly accept job seekers.
The program, unveiled in the federal budget, will give businesses financial incentives to take on interns, train them up, and then another incentive to take them on for proper work once their trial period finishes. PaTH will facilitate 120,000 internships over four years, giving $200 on top of regular welfare payments to welfare recipients who work 25 hours a week. Unions have slammed the plan as "$4/hour internships".
The government launched a website where employers can register their interest for the program, with Treasurer Scott Morrison and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash officially unveiling the initiative in Adelaide at a smash repairs business.
"The Motor Trades Association of Australia Limited (MTAA), representing more than 60,000 automotive businesses nationwide, and Choices Flooring, a national flooring retailer have signalled their intention" to take on PaTH interns, Morrison said in a statement. Cash claimed the MTA had "put their hands up and said they will take 4,000 places in this program over four years."
However, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has slammed both the industry and the government over the plan.
"The ACTU is appalled that the Government continues to spruik its discredited and potentially illegal PaTH $4 an hour worker scheme, this time suggesting it could displace apprenticeships in South Australia's automotive industry," the ACTU said in a release.
ACTU President Dave Oliver said he feared businesses would favour lower-paid interns over apprentices.
"Slashing funding for apprenticeships and replacing them with underpaid unemployed people desperate for a job is a cruel joke – what happens when they outlive the subsidy from the government?" Oliver said.
"This government should be ensuring that businesses properly invest in their future workforces, and create meaningful, fair pathways into decent jobs. Instead, they continue to offer up our young people as cheap workers ready to be exploited."
Speaking in Adelaide, Morrison said the internship program would give businesses more incentive to employ young workers, not less.
"We talked to businesses and said how can we better support you to give the young people a go and their answer was we want to give them a go but it is costing too much and the risk is too great. That was a big impediment to young people and small businesses like this one getting together to give young people a go," he said.
"This is a plan that will actually help young people who have been unemployed for some time to get on a path to be in a job and get a path off welfare. If you want to do something about the cost of welfare in this country, you have to get young people into jobs. Otherwise you're resigning them to a life of welfare and no choices."