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Retailers Are Excited to Hire Unemployed Young People For Free

The government's new unpaid internship scheme is the biggest thing to happen for Australian retailers since... penalty rate cuts.

Katherine Gillespie

Employment minister Michaelia Cash has announced a partnership between the federal government's Youth Jobs PaTH (Prepare-Trial-Hire) scheme and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), which means thousands of young unemployed people on Centrelink benefits can now become… unpaid interns at their local supermarkets. Retail business owners are understandably eager to participate in the program.

Cash confirmed on Monday that the Australian Retailers Association "will partner with the Turnbull Government and deliver up to 10,000 internships to young Australians looking to get into work through the Youth Jobs PaTH program."

She said the Coalition understood that the "best form of welfare is a job" and that the scheme would be "implementing practical measures so that those looking for work have the experience and skills they need to secure a job...The retail trade industry employs more than 1.2 million people [and] today's announcement will provide more opportunities for thousands of young Australians to learn new skills and showcase their talents in this industry."

The ARA was similarly enthusiastic. "We are very excited to be a part of the PaTH program. Our retailers are already major employers of young people and these PaTH internships will now provide another way that employers can give young people a fair go," the ARA's executive director Russell Zimmerman said in a press release.

"With the diverse range of careers in the retail industry, we need our young staff to not only have basic vocational skills but also have a wide range of qualifications before they can start on the job." Yes—those same qualifications that are ordinarily received while being paid a wage.

The PaTH scheme was the centrepiece of the Turnbull Government's 2016 Budget, and it doesn't mean unemployed people go completely unrewarded for their work as "interns"—just that the businesses hiring them don't have to cough up any money. Instead, interns will receive a $200 fortnightly incentive (the equivalent of being paid $4 per hour) from the government on top of their income support as they complete a four to 12-week program with a retailer.

All employers who host an intern, meanwhile, receive a nice little upfront payment of $1,000 for their troubles. There's a further $10,000 bonus for those who hire interns after their extensive unpaid trial period.

For a young unemployed person on Newstart, the currently rate of pay is $501 per fortnight. With the additional $200 on top, that means interns will be earning roughly half of what a full time retail worker earning $19.02 per hour receives for a two-week pay period.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney has condemned the move, saying that the PaTH program "will do nothing for young people beyond churning them through short-term, dead-end placement" and that it will "take away full wage paying positions, denying Australians of decent work, and will entrench the current situation of soaring profits and stagnating wages."

2017 has been a great year for retailers so far, with Sunday penalty rates officially cut from last weekend onwards.

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