'Borders on slavery': Government's internships welfare program criticised by unions, Labor

The unions and the federal opposition have criticised the federal government's new welfare plan to help unemployed youths by offering 10,000 new internships over the next four years.

Up to 10,000 internships will be offered to unemployed youths over the next four years in a deal struck between the federal government and retail sector.

But not everybody is pleased with the scheme, with unions arguing if there are retail positions available, employers should instead be offering young welfare recipients ongoing work.

Jobless youths aged between 15 and 24 will undertake training before securing 12-week placements with major retailers under the government's PaTH internship program.

"They will get a start at a job and, you know what, they could go on to great heights," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Monday.

"They could go on to, like many others before them, running big businesses, owning big businesses and employing lots of other people, realising their dreams."

The PaTH scheme (Prepare, Trial, Hire) offers young jobseekers $200 a fortnight on top of their income support payments to undertake internships, and gives employers a $1000 upfront payment for taking them on.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Russel Zimmerman says underprivileged youths will access the same opportunities as successful people before them who started out on the retail shop floor.

"We are hoping by this program, and being able to get people enthused about the retail industry and to get employers to take on more people, that we will get young people into retail, that they will see retail as a career, and work their way through," Mr Zimmerman said.

Unions fear exploitation

But Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said the program offered no path to qualification, employment or workforce protection.

"This is a government-sanctioned program that actually borders on slavery," she told reporters in Melbourne.

It's offering them as free labour: ACTU
It's offering them as free labour: ACTU

"If this does create new jobs, then pay the kids for the jobs. Pay them a wage. They're going to be productive. They're going to be contributing to the bottom line of these businesses."

Government defends 'fair go' plan

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash says the partnership is aimed at getting young people job-ready, giving them a go and finding them work.

"When we say that the best form of welfare is a job, we mean it, and we will put both the resources and the programs behind it," she said.

Government vows new jobs will be created

Jobs created through the program will be new positions, rather than replacing current roles or filling existing gaps.

Labor and the Greens are opposed to the program, insisting it will allow young people to be exploited by employers.

"If the PaTH program becomes simply a supply of cheap labour for employers who would otherwise be paying people full time wages to do that work, then that's a bad thing," deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said.

About 620 young people have been given internships through the PaTH scheme since it began on April 1, with 82 young people securing ongoing work.

Source: AAP, SBS World News