Turnbull’s internships to provide cheap labour

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash
Contributed by Joe Montero

Malcolm Turnbull says he has a jobs plan and this is to provide 10,000 young unemployed people with 12-week job placements in major retailers. Those between 15 and 24 will be affected.

Our prime minister has also been kind enough to say that those given these PaTh Internships, will be allowed to continue getting their Centrelink payments and they will get an extras $200 per week on top of this.

“They will get a start at a job and, you know what, they could go on to great heights,” he said

This is such a great deal that perhaps he should demand to be paid $450 per week too. Imagine. Even his mates sitting on company boards, or living off share dividend might also want part of the action.

Hang on. Back in the real world, it could be that Malcolm and friends may not appreciate the joy of being turned into a source of cheap labour, for this is exactly what these internships are.

The Australian Retailers Association chief executive Russel Zimmerman can say that that this will provide the underprivileged, with access to the same opportunity that some of Australia’s most successful business people have had. But he knows very well that this is a scheme that is going to encourage businesses to use up people and then get rid of them, as soon as the government subsidy cuts out. If he doesn’t grasp this reality, he should not be at the helm of a large organisation.

It is no secret that the already existing work for the dole scheme operates in this way and it very rarely leads towards a pathway to permanent employment. So much so that it being criticised from all quarters. It has led to cheap labour and some being forced to perform unsafe work that has caused injury and even death.

In the first place, any program that is going to provide a career path must be based on permanent employment, with guaranteed adequate training. Training needs to be guaranteed, so that those taken on are not merely used up to perform menial tasks. And the provision of a career path and training  this must be under the supervision of a proper government authority. A government subsidy to employers is all right, so long as there is a contractual obligation to maintain employment after this has run out.

Turnbull, nor the employment minister Michaelia Cash have mentioned these needs. It must then be assumed that they won’t be provided.

If the purpose is to reduce unemployment, placements must be on guarantee full wages. Without this, the result will be that  existing  secure jobs will be replaced by insecure, low paying jobs and no progress will be made in reducing real unemployment.

The scheme only makes sense if this is exactly what the purpose is.

It brings us to the truth. The retail industry cadet scheme is an addition to the abolition of penalty rates. Both are means towards fostering a new cheap labour force.

They come on top of  the marked shift to a much more vigorous and punitive Centrelink system,  which has come into shape in recent years, deliberately setting out to vilify and force payment recipients to accept any kind of job, no matter how miserable the pay or how bad the conditions.

The logic of this strategy is to exert a downward pressure on the existing wages and conditions of those who are already in employment. The purpose of this cruelty is to follow the line that by reducing the wages share and handing this over to the employer, Australia’s economic problems will be solved.

Australia’s economic problem is not that wages are too high. If this is the case, the stagnation in wages growth would have solved the problem by now. But this is not happening. The situation is getting worse instead.

Leaving the workforce with less disposable money cuts back on what they can buy and this hurts business.

Sight should not be lost on the fact that history in Australia and other countries has shown that raising wage levels has been associated with sustainable economic growth. There is no reason why it would be different today.


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