The government will audit all employers in its flagship youth internship program to ensure no other workers are being exploited after BuzzFeed News revealed two young people were chasing unpaid wages.
The revelation came in a statement from the government shortly before the Senate passed a motion on Tuesday afternoon calling on the government to carry out an urgent audit of the PaTH scheme which launched in April.
Assistant minister to the prime minister, senator James McGrath responded to the motion by telling the senate the Department of Employment was already "conducting an audit for participating employers".
McGrath reiterated interns could leave their internship at any time "without penalty".
"All internships are voluntary and must be agreed between the employer and intern," he said.
The government last year announced the controversial scheme through which young people could voluntarily earn $200 a fortnight — which as BuzzFeed News identified could equate to as little as $4 per hour — on top of their current welfare payments.
Under the Youth Jobs PaTH policy, businesses receive an upfront $1,000 payment from the government for taking on the intern, who works for a minimum of 30 hours and maximum of 50 hours per fortnight.
The Senate motion, which passed just before 5pm on Tuesday afternoon, noted a coffee chain in Melbourne allowed an intern to work hours "well beyond the maximum 50 hours per fortnight", rostered on another young job seeker "before the internship had even begun" and offered Visa gift cards as payment, as exposed by BuzzFeed News.
"We are already seeing allegations of exploitation as predicted just months into the program," the motion acknowledged.
"We cannot allow this to become a systemic problem," Greens senator Rachel Siewert, who introduced the motion, said.
“The Australian Greens want to see the details of this audit."
"We need to make sure that there they are thoroughly assessing the employers that are signing up to the program and talking to participants about how they are being treated."
BuzzFeed News last week reported Espresso Lane had been suspended from the program by the Department of Employment, but the motion called on the government to go one step further and "permanently ban" the chain from the scheme.
BuzzFeed News has contacted the Department of Employment for further information on its audit.
Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
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