Controversial free internship scheme Jobbridge is due to be scrapped after 'abuses' from some firms

New Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar to replace it with targeted scheme in September

Social protection minister Leo Varadkar is scrapping JobBridge, the controversial state-supported internship scheme for unemployed workers.

Just two weeks into his new role, Mr Varadkar has decided to axe the controversial social welfare scheme, which sees unemployed people paid an additional €52.50 on top of their weekly dole, in return for working as a full-time interns with companies.

The state-supported work experience programme is aimed at upskilling those on social welfare and securing them full-time employment - but meant that businesses could fill full-time roles for a fraction of their normal cost.

Businesses and state agencies have been accused of using the scheme as a source of cheap labour, even as the economy recovers.

Mr Varadkar said JobBridge in its current form had "served its purpose" but added that he wanted to see it replaced with a new targeted better suited to the current jobs market.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Mr Varadkar said: "It was very much a scheme for a particular moment in time. It was set up at a time when employers could not afford to take people on, and also graduates in particular could not get any work experience and therefore could not get into employment.

"The economy is now changed, we have a much more vibrant and booming labour market in many ways, and my view now is that the time has come for JobBridge to be replaced."

 

Just a third of the 46,500 people who signed up to Jobbridge have gone on to secure full-time employment.

 

In 2014, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said JobBridge was "large and expensive" and "not targeted specifically at the most disadvantaged groups".

Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Anti-Austerity Alliance People Before Profit have all called for the Government to abandon the scheme.

A recent report showed the HSE hired 399 people through JobBridge, while the GAA took on 249.

In a separate interview with the Sunday Independent the Minister added that JobBridge was launched during the recession when companies were not hiring because they could not afford to recruit.

"Large numbers of recent graduates and people who lost their jobs in the recession couldn't get the relevant workplace experience they needed to get a first or a new job," Mr Varadkar said.

"That crisis is now over, the economy is growing and employers are hiring again."

The minister added that he was concerned by reports that employers were using the scheme as a "cheap alternative to hiring new employees".

"On the other hand, I am very conscious that there are still many people who lost their jobs in the depth of the recession who are struggling to break back into the labour market, and schemes like JobBridge can provide a valuable pathway to such people, in particular where it is associated with a training programme," he added.

Last week, newly appointed training and Skill junior minister John Halligan said the scheme was "not fit for purpose" and should be replaced as soon as possible.

However, sources close to Mr Varadkar insisted the social protection minister's decision to axe the scheme was taken before Mr Halligan's intervention.