We got this letter in the mail…
There is an organisation called The Work Foundation whose ‘mission’ is to promote ‘good work for all’. One of The Work Foundation’s aims is ‘to improve the quality of working life’ but, unfortunately, they do not apply their own principles to their own organisation. The Work Foundation advertised a vacancy this September looking for ‘exceptional interns’ to work for them for three months at minimum wage; so ‘exceptional’ they stipulated that all candidates should have a research based Masters Degree in economics or in a field related to employment. The Work Foundation is taking advantage of present extraordinarily high graduate unemployment, to recruit over-qualified researchers to do work that their full time paid staff were doing, for minimum wage. Such ‘exceptional’ interns would have spent thousands of pounds on their Masters Degrees, all for the promise of minimum wage for three months. It is not ‘good work for all’, it is an example of outrageous hypocrisy and, what is worse, it is exploitation.
However, it is legal exploitation. Because they are paying minimum wage to their interns to do work that their staff would be paid a salary to do, they are not doing anything illegal. The most infuriating thing of all is that The Work Foundation is better than most intern exploiting organisations; at least they offer minimum wage.
The worst perpetrators of graduate exploitation are the policy makers, the politicians. Look on w4mp.org and you will see dozens of vacancies for unpaid internships advertised by politicians, all hungry to take advantage of the unemployment many protest so passionately about. Pick any such advert from a politician and I would bet a Parliamentary intern’s annual salary that politician will have at some point publically complained about income equality or social mobility or the poverty of aspiration or that most politicians are from middle class background and are not reflective of society. Those politicians are bigger hypocrites than The Work Foundation. Ask yourself which section of society can most afford to work unpaid in London for up to six months, to be able gain sufficient experience to begin a career in politics? I can assure you it is not the poor.
Which is why I was encouraged that all the male Labour leadership candidates signed up to the ‘Intern Aware’ statement, declaring ‘I pledge that if I am elected leader of the Labour Party I will campaign for Labour’s Minimum Wage Act to be fully enforced so that employers must pay their interns what they are due.’ However I spoke to a graduate seeking a career in politics who is not an enthusiast of the ‘Interns Aware’ campaign. She worked on a Labour candidate’s leadership campaign and she told me that because the candidate “signed the ‘Interns Aware’ statement, I am classed as a ‘volunteer’ and not an intern – so now I can’t even claim travel and lunch expenses!” Belatedly the ‘volunteer’ was eventually offered expenses as the leadership race ended. Nevertheless I cannot help but think that Labour candidates signing up to ‘Intern Aware’ pledge and then changing the status of their ‘Interns’ to ‘Volunteers’, was hardly in the spirit of the pledge. However, it does very much fit into the spirit of hypocrisy that plagues politicians; the phrase ‘put your money where your mouth is’ remains to ring true.