Fewer than three people a day have been signed up to a much-heralded work placement scheme launched by the government.

After 17 months, just 1,446 people have been put to work on the programme, which gives the jobless nine months of experience with an employer. Another 1,133 placements remain vacant with nobody yet appearing to express any interest in taking part.

While fewer than three people signed up each day for the programme in the summer months, an extra 283 signed on to the live register.

Figures released by the Central Statistics Office last week showed that the numbers signing on in July had risen to 452,400, the biggest monthly increase in a year.

The unemployment rate also rose to 13.7%, a 0.3% rise on June, which puts joblessness in Ireland at double the European Union average.

The department of education defended the work placement scheme and said it was not designed to create employment.

"The work placement programme is a work experience programme, which provides participants with unpaid work experience of up to nine months' duration. [It] is not an employment creation programme but it clearly meets the needs of certain unemployed cohorts," said the department.

Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes criticised the scheme, which he said was launched with huge fanfare 17 months ago as a major initiative to help give further workplace training to the unemployed.

"The government has paraded it ever since as being one of their major job creation initiatives. In fact, it could be described as their only job creation initiative," he said. "This is an absolute fiasco from this government. This programme should be seeing a huge uptake from companies and from people who are unemployed, as it stands to benefit both of them."