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Government’s $4/Hour PaTH Program Could Lead To “Exploitative Unpaid Internships

Research suggests just one in five internships in Australia lead to a job.

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Interns Australia (IA) has slammed the government's Prepare, Trial, Hire internship program saying it will "erode the still-unclear rights of interns in Australia and contribute to the displacement of entry-level employment".

Department of Employment / Via employment.gov.au

The voluntary internship program unveiled in the budget is due to start in April 2017 and will pay up to 30,000 young people who are unemployed or disadvantaged to complete an internship of up to 12 weeks.

Businesses would be given an upfront payment of $1000 to host the intern and the intern will receive up to $100 a week on top of their existing welfare payments.

Unions have criticised PaTH, branding it a "$4-per-hour jobs for young people" scheme.

"We don't think that's going to do anything but provide yet another layer of unpaid labour which is actually going to be subsidised by the taxpayer," the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national president Andrew Dettmer said.

"A young intern will be receiving perhaps $100 a week from the taxpayer additional to their unemployment benefit."

Only 19.83% of unpaid internships result in paid employment. Yup, you read that right. This means less than 1 in 5 internships led to jobs, according to the report.

The legal definition of an internship is currently unclear under Australian employment law, as are the legal rights of an intern. It is unclear whether PaTH workers will be classified as "employees" under the Fair Work Act 2009 and if so, why the National Employment Standards are not being met.

IA fears that if the government brand its 30,000 PaTH workers as "interns" they'll accelerate an "internships culture" where unpaid entry-level workers are seen as an acceptable part of a workplace and left unprotected by law.

"Interns Australia has concerns that if businesses are given a $1000 incentive to take on an intern, this culture if likely to be encouraged," IA wrote in its submission to the government's consultation paper.

"There is no incentive for a business to offer an internship for a fully-paid position if they are able to receive another intern (and another $1000 incentive) under the Internship Programme."

"In doing so, organisations may use the interns to perform the work that would otherwise be performed by entry-level employees, further cementing internships in our society and eroding the path to a well-paying job."

IA wants the government to launch an inquiry into the role of internships in Australian employment law and examine the possibility for more funding for workers.

Labor says the government should pay for a six-month work placement paid at an award-equivalent training wage.

At the time of publishing, the government hadn’t responded to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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