Over the past six months, I’ve banged on pretty regularly about the injustice of unpaid internships for the Independent and pretty much anyone else who would have me.
So you could imagine I was appalled by the news that FHM, the New Statesman and even a local paper, the Cambridge News, were auctioning off unpaid work experience to the highest bidder.
Appalled but not shocked.
Of course the money raised was for a good cause, the British Olympic Association, and the companies involved were not directly financially profiting but this still demonstrates the normalisation of bad employment practices in the UK economy.
We have got to the point where people (or more likely their parents) are actually paying to go to work. That means getting up early, commuting, making countless cups of tea and expending time and mental energy on a project. I never understood why anyone should do that for free let alone pay for the privilege.
In a hundred years from now, economic historians may well look back on the weird, topsy turvy labour practices as the weirdest example of market failure in human history.
Unpaid internships are illegal in 99 per cent of cases. Whether or not companies can genuinely afford to pay them is another question but we have got to stop letting people sweep the issue under the rug.
Ex-Labour minister and Salford MP Hazel Blears introduced a 10 minute rule bill on banning the advertising of unpaid internships to the House of Commons at the end of last month. This would mean companies are not allowed to pretend they aren’t looking for the equivalent of an unpaid junior assistant then advertising for the position on jobs websites like Gorkana (whether it’s trading standards or employment law- some sort of law is being broken).
The reason they thought these were appropriate lots for the auction is because employers know they can be brazen and not only will HMRC turn a blind eye, gullible graduates will flock to them in their droves.
Candidates with as many as six internships on their CV a frequently told it’s the next one, the next one that will finally get them on the ladder. But it’s a lie. Whether you can afford to pay or not you should not agree to do an unpaid internship because it means there are fewer paying jobs. If you allow daddy to buy you a week of work experience at the local paper it makes it less likely there will be a job for you at the end, not more.
Without this sounding too much like a call to arms, we need to start standing up for ourselves rather than moaning. We always say ‘something must be done’ but now we need to start actually doing something.
David Cameron once said he was ‘relaxed’ about unpaid internships; not because he’s an upper class toff but because young people stereotypically don’t vote and when they do they don’t tend to vote Tory. Similarly, another of the Liberal Democrats pledges was to end unpaid internships, yet two years later a quick search on the Working for an MP jobs website shows the majority of theirs are still ‘voluntary’.
The reason interns don’t get paid is because employers don’t think they need to. There is always another gullible sap to take their place.
That is why we get internships ads like this one, which the author told the Irish Times was to avoid time wasters. He said he sees so many CVs from people who’ve done 6 internships or more and this obviously demonstrates that they aren’t good enough otherwise they would have got the job.
This is obviously untrue but demonstrates the disposability of young labour in media and elsewhere. It’s time to stop thinking that if we put up with all the crap now we’ll be rewarded later. Playing by other people’s rules is getting us nowhere; it’s time to make our own.
If we want respect it’s time to actually start demanding it.
Image on the homepage courtesy of s_falkow
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look