Business ordered to repay $17,000 of taxpayer funds over Path internship program

The coalition’s controversial PaTH internship scheme has come under scrutiny again after it was revealed that a company had taken $17,000 of taxpayers’ funds to host 17 interns - none of whom were given a job at the end of it.

A Senate estimates hearing has heard JWM Communications hosted 17 interns - acquiring the $1,000 subsidy per intern offered by the government under the scheme - but failed to employ a single one afterwards.

Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill said it amounted to 68 weeks of free labour.

The company was sent a letter in December requesting the business pay back the subsidies.

The Department of Jobs and Small Businesses is yet to receive a response.

“Hopefully they get the communication and they pay the money back to the government and the Australian taxpayers” Senator O’Neill said.

The business has since been excluded from the PaTH program.

JWM Communications was one of 20 businesses named in Senate estimates over breaches of the internship agreement.

Department official Greg Manning pointed out that it equated to just 0.55% of the 3,000+ businesses involved overall.

We’re not seeing systemic problems that require major policy changes.

Senate estimates also heard the Prepare, Trial, Hire (PaTH) program had fallen well short of its targets.

Funding was set aside for 30,000 internship placements but only 5,619 had been completed.

Earlier Government estimates said at least 18,000 businesses were needed to sign onto the program for it to work. However, since April 2017, just 3933 - less than a quarter of that - have opted in.

Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds defended the program and said it was getting young people into employment.

“It is working and it is a highly successful program.”

Leading young people down the wrong PaTH?

The PaTH program was introduced by the Coalition back in the 2016/17 budget as a way to mobilise 17-24 year olds into full-time, stable employment.

The scheme was three-pronged; offering “pre-employment skills training” to jobseekers before placing them in 12-week internship with participating businesses.

On top of being given a $1,000 subsidy for every intern they take on, businesses are not required to pay their interns.

Marketing materials for the scheme spruiked incentives of up to $10,000 in government subsidies for companies involved.

Interns would be given an extra $200 on top of their Centrelink payments. Under the program, they can legally work up to 50 hours per week -  which works out to around $4 an hour.

The $840 million program has been heavily criticised on multiple occasions.

Most notably, in December last year when the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union criticised a Hungry Jack’s ad looking to hire interns under the program.

The placement had interns working 15 hours per week - an hourly rate of $6.60.

Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus called out the fast food chain for taking hours away from existing employees or full-time Christmas casuals. 

Senate estimates heard of the businesses that have signed up, 20% are retail stores - including Coles and Woolworths.

$4 an hour internships