I took part in the campaign running up to the General Election and beyond as an unpaid intern for five months. I was promised a job if we win, which we did, but my only reward for my hard work was a “strong reference” that is yet to materialise. I worked an average six days a week, 10-12 hours a day in the first four month and around 100 hours a week in the last month (short campaign). I not only had fix tasks to do but had managerial status and sole responsibility for one aspect of the campaign that involved the coordination of around 200 people. I was provided with accommodation and a lunch allowance but the five months had other expenses too. It did cost me in the end and this put me in a difficult financial situation, not having a regular income for more then half year now. I was not offered a job in spite of promises, am yet to find employment and do not receive any help from the now Member of Parliament.
I think doing an unpaid internship is fair if it leads to paid employment one way or another. It is fair if you are rewarded at the end. I would not mind at all working for free if it could lead me to a paid position but this is not the case. It only put me in a very difficult situation, where I cannot find employment and running short of money.
I know that most candidates (at least the big parties) used at least 3-4 interns during the last five months of their campaigns that involves around 10-14 hours of work 6-7 days a week. I do not have to do the math to know that we are talking about a huge sum.
I understand that an internship is based on a mutual agreement and no one is forced to do it but on the other hand the market and life itself forces us to do internships for the experience without which we could not get a job later on. I think MPs abuse this situation.
I generally accept the concept of unpaid internship but it should lead to paid position. No one can expect anyone to work for free for a long period of time and pay for food, transport, accommodation etc. Everything in life has a price and without money it is almost impossible to survive. An MP who is on a 65k wage should not put anyone in a situation where he struggles to pay for the basics for such a long period. Minimum wage is not a huge amount but enough to get on in the first couple of months of our lives before we find our place in life after graduation. If this basic wage cannot be provided and new graduate still takes the position it must lead to a paid job as reward, recognition of hard work and because it is only fair so!
This could be and should be regulated. Either by making sure a paid position will follow an unpaid internship especially if the program last for several months. The other way would be to provide an additional budget for MPs to take on an intern on minimum wage on top of their 104k staff allowance.
I do not want to mention names or concrete details because my aim is not to hurt one but to point out that I disagree with current practices and I believe it is timely to debate this issue especially since the coalition government advocates the importance of internships, apprenticeships and work placement for young people and new graduates.