Some of Australia’s biggest companies are allegedly paying young jobseekers just $4 an hour under a federal government internship program.

The government’s paTH program offers internships to young workers eager to get off welfare.

But there is concern that participants are being exploited, and fewer than half actually get permanent work out of it.

Internships are being offered by some of the country’s biggest supermarkets, fast food chains and chemists.

The program gives businesses $1,000 to host an intern working up to 25 hours a week for three months.

The business does not have to pay the intern any wages. They are made to rely on $100 a week from the government in addition to their usual welfare payments.

The business can offer ongoing employment to successful candidates, but just over one third of interns across the program are being offered ongoing work.

Coles, Woolworths, Chemist Warehouse, AHS, a company that outsources housekeepers and Hogs Breath Café in Newcastle are the top five businesses using the program.

Hogs Breath took on 36 interns but only six were given jobs, documents obtained under Freed of Information shows.

“This program is failing. It’s failing in safety, it’s failing in adding to new jobs and frankly it’s failing the youth of Australia,” Labor’s Brendan O’Connor said.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said paTH should get young people off welfare and into employment, but admits there is a suspiciously low success rate of the program.

“People should be paid for the hours they work, that’s why the fair work commission ensure that’s possible and takes place,” McCormack said.

“Transitioning from not work into work, the best form of welfare is a job.”