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Retail internships: PaTH to jobs or poverty?

 

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Australian Retailers Association (ARA) executive director Russell Zimmerman and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have launched a program designed for young people entering the retail workforce with the assistance of the Government’s Youth Jobs PaTH (Prepare-Trial-Hire) program.

The ARA said its aim is growing employment in the retail sector and has been working with the Federal Government to assist internships to young Australians looking to get into retail through the Youth Jobs PaTH program, run by Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.

Russell Zimmerman said retail is transforming from a stepping-stone industry into a long-term and professionally fulfilling career, with some of Australia’s most successful business people starting on the shop floor.

“We are very excited to be a part of the PaTH program. Our retailers are already major employers of young people and these PaTH internships will now provide another way that employers can give young people a fair go,” Zimmerman said.

“With the diverse range of careers in the retail industry, we need our young staff to not only have basic vocational skills but also have a wide range of qualifications before they can start on the job.”

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The churning danger

The Greens and Labor believe the internships are just another way for employers to not have to pay award wages to staff and that the internships will replace full-time, full-wage jobs.

“Although I’m sure the Australian Retailers Association was well-intentioned in brokering this deal with the government, I do have questions about why these young people can’t just be offered work under the usual conditions rather than internships where they can be potentially exploited,” Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said.

“Under the PaTH process, people are not paid the same as their colleagues. Overseas we have seen examples where businesses use government-funded internship programs to churn through workers, offering them no long-term prospects.

“I also have questions about working conditions—it must be ensured that protections that you would see in other employment contracts are available to young people entering these internships.

“This rollout must be closely monitored so that young jobseekers aren’t being churned through and viewed as an opportunity for cheap labour by businesses.”

The Labor opposition was equally denigrating.

“The day after the Turnbull Government supported cutting penalty rates for nearly 700,000 workers, it’s bragging about a program that forces young people to work for less than the minimum wage,” Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor said.

“The Turnbull Government can’t explain how the Youth PaTh program won’t displace jobs that could go to full-paid employees.

“The government has not outlined how its agreement with retailers will stop subsidised workers from being used by some retailers to avoid paying penalty rates—by engaging subsidised, so-called ‘interns’ in penalty shifts that would normally be staffed by employees,” he said.

The government responds

In launching the program, Turnbull said: “Now we have in Australia at the moment about 12.7 per cent of young people between 15 and 24 who are looking for work in the workforce or are unable to get a job.

“Now that’s far too high. If we reduce that by 20,000, that is a full percentage point. So you can see that the 120,000 over four years, if that sets tens of thousands of young people onto the pathway to employment, as it will, who would otherwise not have done that, it makes a very big material difference. Not just to their lives, to give them the chance to get ahead, but to the nation as a whole.”

When asked by a journalist how likely it is to create churn in the workforce, the Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash said:

“These are new jobs and … the employer has to certify that there is a job available or there is a high likelihood of a job available. This is about getting our young people off welfare and into work and the government has worked very closely with employers in particular to ensure that there are the appropriate processes in place.

“We’ve also been very, very clear—if at the end of the internship a job is not offered, there will be an investigation as to why. So very much when this government says we are getting our youth off welfare and into work, I can assure you we are putting in place the programs that are going to do that.”

Brendan O’Connor wasn’t convinced, however.

“Instead of coming up with a serious jobs plan to help bring down Australia’s high rate of youth unemployment, the Turnbull Government is rolling out programs that are replacing properly-paid, entry level jobs,” he said.

This story originally appeared on Government News.

 

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