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A forum for interns to share their experiences and discuss the ethics of unpaid employment. Most importantly, we want this site to be a place where YOU can tell us your story.
With interning I have been put in undesirable situations, both as an incumbent intern and one who is applying for other intern roles. I am presently an intern with a charity, and sometimes the anxiety I’m put through is so bad it’s comical. For example, there isn’t enough space in the office to place my own laptop somewhere near an electrical socket. I swear there must be some EU regulation about how much space a person needs, but since I’m not a paid employee the rules don’t seem to apply.
On some days I feel like a pariah who needs to be palmed off somewhere else in the office. I’m told politely that I need to ‘go away’ if the space is needed for a group assignment, but since space is limited, I need to fight to find another place which normally means negotiating with some other stressed out intern on a cramped desk. For a two month internship, I’m nearly on month five. I think that about two thirds of the people power in the office I’m in are interns.
My current dilemma is this: I’ve been offered an internship for a charity that does very important work with vulnerable people, and I could work somewhere that makes a difference. Unfortunately, because the expense stipend of the internship is limited and the fact that they are asking for 5 days a week, I may have to turn them down.
If I were in the internship for 5 days a week, it would mean that I would have to void my claim to jobseekers’ allowance because I cannot say that I am looking for work as much as is needed for the jobseeker’s agreement.
The Jobcentre Plus is not very sympathetic to internships, either; partly because the JCP does not understand graduates predicaments but also because of the demi-legal status of interns as employees. The ‘expense’ allowance that the company is offering is not comparable to the JSA in that the travel expenses will be cumbersome as it’s on the other side of the city. Doing this internship means making a sacrifice too financially great for the very uncertain prospect that they’d offer a job at the end of it. The situations that I am forced in as a current intern and as a prospective intern are slowly becoming unbearable.
For more information on whether you can claim JSA whilst interning click here.
We have been granted access to the article despite not being subscribers, so enjoy…
Young people are being used as free labour
The Times, 22/09/2010
Young graduates desperate for a job are increasingly being exploited by cost-cutting employers who flout minimum wage legislation by using them as unpaid interns in roles formerly performed by salaried employees, it is claimed today.
An estimated 128,000 people have worked as interns for British businesses this summer for less than the minimum wage or no wage at all. Some employers do not pay travel expenses.
In a letter published today in The Times, campaigners for young people claim that unpaid internships are illegal and “exploit those who do them and exclude those who can’t afford to do them”. Its signatories, who include student, graduate and union representatives, are demanding government action to “end this hidden economy and enforce existing minimum wage legislation”.
Some employers were effectively using slave labour, said Alex Try, who runs the Interns Anonymous website. “If you’re running a business in straitened economic times, you’re not going to budget to pay £15,000 for a junior administrator if you can get an extra pair of hands — an intern — to perform the same tasks for nothing.”
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates that 28 per cent of internships offered this summer paid below the minimum wage and 18 per cent were unpaid.
In a recent report, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) defined an internship as lasting for at least three months, involving an agreement to work set hours, often full-time, performing specified pieces of work that would otherwise be done by a paid member of staff.
The IPPR argued that interns performing such roles in the private sector should be classified as workers under the Minimum Wage Act 1998 and that their employers should be paying them at least the minimum wage.
Pam Loch, of specialist employment lawyers, Loch Associates, warned that “in the current recession, with businesses trying to reduce costs, some are substituting internships for paid jobs”.
“It’s a grey area. A lot of interns are not going to challenge the system because they’re pleased to gain the experience, but employers need to be aware that HMRC has compliance officers who can carry out an inspection at any time.
“Genuine work experience is one thing, but employers who treat interns as though they were workers or employees, doing a job a paid employee would normally do, could be challenged at an employment tribunal.”
Internships are growing in popularity across many sectors of industry, but remain particularly common in the worlds of politics, the media, PR, fashion, design and the arts.
Full-time, unpaid internships have been advertised this summer by Selfridges, Urban Outfitters, the retail fashion chain, and publishing firms producing magazines for Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Superdrug and Weight Watchers.
Some last three months but the Urban Outfitters’ internship, involving the performance of “key” specific duties in the planning and allocation department of its London head office, lasts nine.
One London PR company, “a cutting edge media consultancy firm”, is offering a three-day-a-week internship for an “intelligent and hard-working graduate with bags of initiative” who is prepared to work unpaid for “at least 11 months”.
Tanya de Grunwald, who runs the Graduate Fog website for jobseekers, has been running a name-and-shame campaign this summer to highlight major companies that are advertising unpaid internships.
She said: “Some of these companies are well-known brands who usually protect their image really fiercely. I think they should be ashamed of using young, unpaid workers like this, especially given the dire headlines about youth unemployment at the moment.”
Ed Howker, co-author with Shiv Malik of Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth, said that the private sector’s increasing use of extended, unpaid internships was unacceptable.
“Getting work experience is fine but internship is different. In some of the most competitive industries you can labour for months without any pay as an intern. It sends a horrible message to new workers that what they do is useless.
“And it’s not the only problem young people face. With an ailing employment market, expensive rents and huge student and personal debts, young people are ending up locked out of normal adulthood.”
I did a three month communication internship with a charity that campaigns for women’s equality while studying full time for my Masters degree. As the Communications Intern at the organisation, I learnt a lot over those three months. Not once was I asked to do the stuff I’ve heard interns are often made to do – making tea/coffee, copying, printing etc. Instead it gave me my first office experience in London and I’m glad it turned out to be an invigorating and exciting one because with that internship, I started on a good note with working in London.
However, several months later, having recently completed my degree, I find myself unemployed. Of course, I understand it is owing to the economic downturn we’ve all been witnessing for a while. But this has put me in a dilemma – should I take up voluntary work again to gain some more experience? Unfortunately, that is not a very viable option for me. I only have a limited amount of money and it’s going to run out pretty soon given the expenses of living in London and then I won’t have a choice but to go back home and try to find some work there.
Anyway, apart from self pity, the main point of this post is to reflect on the very ethics of free work. The charity I had worked for was recently in need of volunteers to help them with stuffing envelopes and sending out mail for their fundraising appeal. They updated their facebook status asking their supporters to volunteer for a day to which a woman replied “Why don’t you hire a woman and pay her a decent wage for the day?” Her comment sparked off a discussion which, to summarise, came to focus on whether it’s more ethically and morally sound for charities and other organisations that are low on resources and funding to ask people to work for free for them than for big organisations or corporations.
While I would have to say that I certainly feel more at ease with myself working for a cause I am committed to than for a profit-making exploitative organisation, I don’t think I can defend not-for-profit charities for partaking in the free internships system. My contribution would happily go towards organisations or projects in which all the team members are working voluntary, for example new online magazines, blogs, projects or campaigns. Not-for-profit charities that can afford to pay some of their employees clearly do not come under the same category. However, since they have limited resources, they are a bit ‘excusable’.
But then, the question arises – if dearth of resources can be an acceptable excuse for hiring people to work for free for charities, couldn’t the same apply to profit-making corporations whose profits might not be enough to pay all of their employees especially in the season of economic recession? That obviously goes to show that it is not an acceptable excuse to make people work for free, be it for a profit-making corporation or a not-for-profit charity. The system of hiring people for free as interns is, as I see it, a very capitalist system that tries to ‘maximise’ the ‘efficiency’ of its resources by simply not paying some of its employees.
The only acceptable excuse that I believe charities could use is that they do not make profit out of people’s free work; instead they use free work to contribute towards the ‘cause’. But that still does not, in any way, justify their participation in and support to this capitalist system. Further, if that ‘cause’ is the fuelling force, why can’t paid employees work overtime to overcome the gap between the work they need to get done and the resources they have instead of hiring other people to work for free? I think that would surely be more justifiable since the paid employees would be getting at least some money for that work. That not-for-profit organisations encourage the internship system instead of ‘motivating’ their paid employees to work more/longer clearly implies that they are equally guilty of sustaining this abominable and exploitative free work system.
I would love to know what other people think about it.
It should be obvious but if you need convincing, here’s why you should pay interns:
Paid Internship in Public Sector
I started an internship in a central government department 3 months after graduation; I applied for the position through the Graduate talent pool. This internship was for a 3 month period (later extended to 6) and paid c. £24,000 pa (+ pension & standard civil service benefits). I really enjoyed my time there and felt that I learnt a lot; I was entrusted with important tasks and even given the opportunity to lead on certain high profile projects.
The team I worked with were very friendly and supportive. I was consistently involved in team and group meetings which enabled me to gain a greater understanding of my role and the workings of my team and the department. I was provided with clear guidance on what was expected of me, and was even supported in attending training courses and shadowing ministers/civil servants.
Unfortunately, I was told that, whilst the team would have liked to have kept me on, the fact that I was not recruited through standard civil service methods, and ongoing budget cuts and headcount reductions, made this impossible. Nonetheless, I feel that this (PAID) internship was incredibly valuable, and that it was an excellent example of all that internships should be about.
Unpaid Internship in Private Sector
After this I moved to London and sought full time employment, or just temping work. I was unsuccessful and after a few months I was offered an unpaid 3 month internship at a small private company in the centre of London. I have been in this position for about a month now. My transport expenses are paid and I am allowed a couple of pounds a day towards lunch.
The bulk of my work consists of simple administrative tasks but it obviously has a value as much of it is presented to clients. I have not been given particularly clear guidance on what is expected of me, nor on best practice within the sector. I have been repeatedly left out of team meetings and I feel that the opportunities to gain experience and improve my skills are very limited. I have found that I am considerably less motivated in this roll than in my paid internship, where I felt far more valued. Despite the fact that I am now haemorrhaging money living in London, I feel that I need to persist with this internship to demonstrate both private sector experience and commitment; even though the development prospects are limited and the employment possibilities virtually nil.
Soon after completing this internship the money I saved from the Civil Service internship will be gone, and I will not be able to continue living in London. I have continued to apply for paid positions whilst in this second internship, with no success. I am doubtful that this unpaid internship will have been worth the expense; it adds little to my CV. I am unsure what I will do if I am unable to find paid employment soon.
I work for a museum as a Youth Ambassador and am unpaid. I was brought in to try to engage the youth and entice them through the doors.
I work closely with the museum’s curator, who is really lovely and happy to have me there. I largely work independently and am trying to build a website, and organise events. This was terrifying in the beginning, as I felt that I had no idea what I was doing. 4 months on, I am beginning to feel more at ease.
There have been some discouragement, such at when talking to some museums they have declared that they don’t want young people to come to ‘their’ museums, that they don’t have a place at them. I think this is ludicrous, because most of these museums are publically funded and if they cut themselves off from these people they are not provided the service they have been entrusted to do.
I think that being an intern is now a right of passage into the job market. Having a first class degree isn’t enough anymore – you’ve got to prove you’ll will to be a slave in order to get a job now.