Georgian Students Snap Up Summer Jobs

Short work-placement scheme will do little to assuage students’ hunger for jobs to pay for their studies, critics say.

Georgian Students Snap Up Summer Jobs

Short work-placement scheme will do little to assuage students’ hunger for jobs to pay for their studies, critics say.

A government programme to provide students in Georgia with summer jobs was fully subscribed to on the day it opened, reflecting the huge demand among young people for paying work that will fund their studies.

While officials hailed the scheme’s popularity as a success, its detractors saw it as an electoral gimmick that would make very little difference to most young people in higher education.

Registration for the Summer Job programme opened on March 20 and was supposed to be open for a month, but by the end of day one, all 25,000 places had been snapped up. The website for applications was so overloaded with requests that it crashed.

Giorgi Kvakhadze was one of the lucky number who registered early, and will be given a work placement of one month this summer, earning them 500 laris, 300 US dollars, each.

“I thought there wouldn’t be enough places so I decided to err on the side of caution,” he said. “If I hadn’t done so, I would have failed to get onto the programme, as others did.”

He was referring to the 65,000 hopefuls who missed out on places because of the overwhelming demand.

Georgia’s president Mikhail Saakashvili said the high demand showed that students wanted to work and were prepared to start on the lowest rung to do so.

“There were problems with online registration,” he said. “Next summer, a higher number of places will be offered on the work programme, and we will see if we can extend it to the winter [recess].”

Lasha Bliadze, head of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation’s youth section, said President Saakashvili should not have been surprised at the level of demand.

“In Georgia, students don’t just want to work, they need to work,” he said. “Our research shows that the cost of education in Georgia exceeds that even in some European countries, and is not in accordance with the standard of living.”

Bliadze said over 10,000 students had been forced to drop out because they could not afford their education.

Those who did manage to find part-time jobs, he said, found that “employment law is entirely weighted towards the employer”.

“We’re aware of many students who’ve had to work under oppressive contracts, and sometimes with no contracts at all, at night, just to pay for their education,” he said.

Bliadze said schemes of this kind were not effective in the longer term, and there were no legislative incentives that might encourage businesses to hire students.

Summer Jobs is not the first short-term scheme of its kind, and cynics note that these initiatives fall in election years. The first was in 2007, when 5,000 students were employed to plant trees in the capital Tbilisi, while in 2009, the city’s public transport network took on 600 students for a month.

The watchdog group Transparency International-Georgia is trying to identify the funding source for the Summer Jobs scheme, as it was not envisaged in this year’s government budget. It suspects the programme is political, a move by Saakashvili’s United National Movement to bolster support ahead of the October parliamentary election.

State television channels carry news updates on the progress of the scheme at least once a week, reporting that another state institution has offered placements, or that students have met another top official.

Deputy Education Minister Koka Seperteladze, whose ministry is running the programme said it made perfect sense for state institutions to offer work placements.

“This project embraces a wide range of employers from the public and private sectors,” he said.

Kvakhadze said he hoped his summer job would provide him with some useful experience for the future, as he did not have time to take a job during term-time.

Another student, Kristine Kvavadze, said she had looked for work in vain, and had yet to benefit from any assistance scheme. She said many employers would only offer students work experience, with no pay.

Bliadze agreed, describing the treatment of students as “blatant discrimination”.

“Look at the situations vacant announcements, and you’ll see that employers set conditions that make it unrealistic for students to work. Some even demand money in return for providing training,” he said.

Seperteladze said the latest scheme showed that the government was doing its best.

“Employment levels are decided by the market. We can [only] help students with programmes like Summer Job, and that’s what we are doing,” he said.

Natia Kuprashvili is an IWPR-trained journalist and director of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters.

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