Labor groups yesterday panned the Ministry of Education (MOE) over a government-sponsored college student internship program, saying that the program would only make the unemployment situation worse.
As part of a project to stimulate the economy through increasing domestic demand to be reviewed by the legislature today, the ministry would spend NT$12 billion (US$354 million) to subsidize businesses that hire college students as interns.
The plan is for college students on the internship program to receive NT$22,000 per month from the ministry for up to a year. The ministry estimates that 35,000 college students will benefit from the program.
However, labor activists voiced concern at a press conference yesterday that the program would not help college students become more competitive in the job market after graduation and that the plan would exacerbate the unemployment situation.
“Basically, businesses will get free, disposable workers paid for by the government to work for them for a year. After the one-year internship is over, they’ll just replace them with new interns for free,” said Liu Yu-hsueh (劉侑學), a Youth Labor Union 95 member. “If companies can get free workers, why hire new employees?”
Liu said that some companies might even fire employees and get interns to fill the vacancies.
“Of course the MOE said that they have measures to prevent companies from doing this, but they will use legal means, such as moving unwanted employees to other positions or cutting their pay and forcing them to resign,” Liu said. “I’ve compared the internship positions being offered by businesses and positions in their own job ads. They are almost the same.”
Liu also questioned whether the internship program would be useful to college students, as most jobs offered would be low-skilled jobs, such as parking lot attendants, truck drivers or customer service specialists.
Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) criticized the ministry’s plan as a waste of money.
“I want to remind MOE officials that the NT$12 billion is borrowed money and should be spent more wisely,” Son said.
Instead of benefiting students as the ministry intends, the internship program would only benefit businesses and employment agencies, he said.
“Some of the employment agencies have already set up special ‘hire for free’ pages on their Web sites,” Son said.
Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions deputy secretary-general Jill Huang (黃吉伶) urged the ministry not to meddle in the employment market.
“Employment is a very complicated issue and that’s why the Council of Labor Affairs created a special agency to take care of it — and even it’s not doing a very good job, despite its professionalism,” Huang said. “The MOE should not try to get involved in issues it’s unfamiliar with.”
In response, MOE Technological and Vocational Education Department official Chang Chung-hsin (章忠信) said the ministry would make sure schools establish a strict screening process when choosing companies for student internships.
Chang said the ministry would request that companies offering internship programs to students provide consultation and guidance to the interns and the firms would be told that they should not lay off interns within the first three months of the program.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG