Former Labour leader defends scheme following news of its winding down
Joan Burton has defended the JobBridge scheme set up under her watch, insisting it helped "a lot of people".
Her successor, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, announced yesterday that the programme would be closed to new entrants on Friday.
JobBridge internships are available to people who have been on social welfare for at least three months.
Those who secure placements receive an extra €52.50 a week on top of their usual social welfare payment.
This has led to accusations that the scheme allows employers to avail of cheap labour.
But in an interview with Newstalk’s Breakfast programme, Ms Burton insisted that the scheme led to “very good” outcomes for interns.
The former Labour leader pointed out that the majority of participants remain in some form of employment, while others are now in further or higher education.
JobBridge helped some 38,000 people re-enter the jobs market, she said, highlighting a finding from an external review published yesterday.
But she added: "There was certainly a problem with public service employers who took on people because of the public service staff embargo...
"Equally, a number of NGOs and voluntary organisations took on interns and again were not really in a position to guarantee them further employment."
Ms Burton said she also agreed with Minister Varadkar's verdict that the scheme was of its time.
It was introduced, she said, during a period of high unemployment, when companies were laying people off and new graduates were simply unable to find work.
"We sought to consciously give people an experience of working in a modern job, and from that empowering the person to go on and work more," she said.
Asked if Minister Varadkar had been "ungracious" in his assessment of JobBridge, Ms Burton said: "Leo’s the minister now. Leo’s the big boy. It’s up to Leo to decide…
"All I have seen is a one-liner from Leo, which he is very good at."
The scheme has always been voluntary, she said, stressing that people were always free to highlight abuses with the department.
She added that some of JobBridge’s critics "have no problem with well-off kids whose parents are connected getting their friends to give their child an internship.
"Whether or not those internships are paid, we don’t know."
The scheme is due to be replaced with a new initiative that will pay at least the minimum wage.