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Internship Plan Draws Ire

A major problem with the plan is that there is no guarantee of a permanent job after the internship
The plan was piloted in eight provinces in the last financial year (ended in March) and will be launched nationwide before the current year is out.The plan was piloted in eight provinces in the last financial year (ended in March) and will be launched nationwide before the current year is out.

The Labor Ministry’s Internship Action Plan, known by its Persian acronym KAJ, has faced widespread criticism by economic experts.

Opponents of the plan say it will push people further below the poverty threshold and add to the numbers under the yoke of forced labor.

Based on the plan, unemployed university graduates in the 23-32 age bracket in all disciplines at any level will be introduced to relevant bodies to do an internship for four to six months and receive one-third of the minimum wage, which now stands at 9.3 million rials ($246) per month as well as accident insurance coverage.

The plan was piloted in eight provinces in the last financial year (ended in March) and will be launched nationwide before the current year is out.

Architects of the plan say the objective of the program is to acquaint young people with work environments, help improve their skills and help them learn to put theories into practice.

“Employers can also benefit from the interns’ academic knowledge,” Ala’eddin Azvaji, an official at the Labor Ministry, was quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency.

However, critics stress that the minuses of the plan far outweigh its pluses.

They argue that implementation of such programs robs experienced employees of the chance to negotiate their wage and compels them to accept whatever measly amount they are offered simply because the program allows companies to hire new graduates with even lower salaries.

Ali Khodaei, a labor activist, argues that the scheme can and will create the grounds for the abuse of workers.

“Skill training programs as mentioned in the ministry’s scheme, must be implemented in an academic set up rather than in the working environment. This can minimize chances of abuse,” he said, ILNA reported.

Also, thanks to the new trend of temporary contracts, workers have long lost the prospect of permanent jobs and the latest plan of action will very likely put their job security at greater risk, he added.

One of the goals of the program is to help new graduates earn skills relevant to their field of study, but this raises a problem: If students don’t acquire vital skills after 16 years of studying, institutions of higher education, which are mushrooming around the country, are not doing their job as expected.

What makes the bad situation worse is that there is no guarantee of a permanent job after the internship.

Labor Ministry officials, however, assert that although companies make no commitment to hire all those who complete the internship program, last year’s reports show close to 70% of the interns were employed by the company in which they were interns.

Besides, as an incentive for employers, their entire share of insurance premium for the new workers will be paid by the government for two years.

Isa Mansouri, a deputy labor minister, has said employment loan of 50 million rials ($1,300) will be given to those who complete the internship.

  Unconstitutional

Some have opined that “cheapening the workforce” is not only against the constitution, but will lead to the gradual degradation of the middle class because university education will no longer translate into better-paid jobs.

Mehrdad Davoudi, an activist, claims the controversial plan is “obviously” in breach of labor laws.

“In Article 71 of the sixth five-year economic development plan (2017-22), there is no mention of putting people to work on a third of the minimum wage,” he said.

Article 71 reemphasizes plans to encourage companies to hire young people.

Activist Davoudi claims such a plan will create a culture of forced labor and low-paid work putting the blame squarely on the workers for not having the required skills and competence to find high-paid jobs.

Nevertheless, officials concur that companies cannot and should not be expected to fill vacancies with trainees and not that experienced workers are always in demand.

Moreover, according to Mohammad Hossein Riyahi, director of Yazd labor office, companies are allowed to hire no more than one intern for every three insured employees. Companies working under the supervision of the Agriculture Ministry can hire one trainee for every two workers who have insurance cover.

Independent observers point out that those opposed to the internship plan have so far not offered any alternative that is better. Senior government officials have forever voiced concern over their inability to put the army of unemployed on the payroll. So, the internship seems a solution, however short-lived and “demeaning” it may seem.

Some experts have even talked about a “tsunami of joblessness” that has engulfed the country of 80 million people with unemployment officially running at 12%. There is abundant reason, many economists say, to believe the number is much higher with no long-term solution in sight.

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