Thousands of young people who were thrust into the government's youth internship program had their welfare payments suspended, documents released to the Senate reveal.
The controversial Youth Jobs Prepare Trial Hire (PaTH) program was introduced in the 2016 federal budget and launched in April 2017.
As part of the $840.3 million program, the government pledged that over four years it would help up to 120,000 young Australians into jobs.
Participants aged 17 to 24 earn $200 a fortnight — as little as $4 per hour — on top of their current welfare payments, for the duration of the four-to-twelve-week voluntary internship of up to 25 hours per week.
The program is heralded by the government as being a path to employment for young people stuck without work, but statistics provided to the Senate estimates committee overseeing the employment portfolio reveal that although 56,433 people have participated in the program, just 8,091 internships have been undertaken since it started, averaging around 500 internships per month.
Of those, just 2,918 participants were employed with the business that hosted them after the completion of their internship. Of those, 2,062 employees had their wages subsidised by the government as part of the youth bonus wage subsidy.
Another 905 people who missed out on jobs after their internship were able to get a job elsewhere within three months of their internship, the Department of Employment said.
Before undertaking internships, participants are required to undertake employability skills training, and failure to participate in this process means their welfare payments can be suspended until they comply. The department said that in the 2017–2018 financial year, 3,684 participants had their payments suspended.
About 9,000 who went through the training component, suspended or otherwise, were able to get a job or internship within six months, according to the government, but unlike the internship component of the program, it is not clear that the training directly contributed to them being able to obtain a job.
The internships on offer to unemployed youth tend to be more closely aligned to the traditional employment opportunities available to younger people, with the highest number of internships (968) undertaken in the cafe sector, followed by sales assistants (926), kitchen hands (401), and clerical work (368).
Late last year, fast food giant Hungry Jack's came under fire when it was revealed that the company was a participant in the PaTH internship program.
At the end of October last year, 20 organisations had been found by the Department of Employment to have not met the requirements of the internship program. The department pointed out that this was just 0.55% of all companies participating.
Included in that figure was one company that hosted 17 interns without subsequently employing any of them. The company was suspended from the program.
A review has been commenced into 113 of the internships due to concern about the host company over issues including the prospect of jobs on offer to interns and the safety of the work environment.
The department has said that the program is "achieving good employment outcomes" because two out of three participants who complete their internship (not just commence it) move on to employment with their business.
Labor has not yet announced whether the PaTH program would continue if the party wins the upcoming federal election. Shadow minister for youth affairs and employment services Terri Butler said in a statement that the program is exploitative.
"Recent estimates figures again demonstrate that the program is failing young people, with only 2,918 participants finding employment with their host organisation," she said.
"Not only is the government failing to get young people into work, but it is failing to protect them from exploitation under the program."
A spokesperson for the office of jobs minister Kelly O'Dwyer told BuzzFeed News that the PaTH program was effective in getting young people off welfare and into work with 38,000 out of 59,000 participants getting employment.
"The Coalition government is determined to see young Australians get into work. In fact, a record 100,000 young Australians secured work last financial year," the spokesperson said in a statement.
The first-stage evaluation of the program by the department is expected to be released early this year, with the final report expected in 2020.