Archive for September, 2011

Interns Anonymous goes to Brussels

On what has got to be one of the best things to come out of doing this ‘job’, last week I got to go to Brussels for the day to talk to other European organisations working for better internships. Not only did I get to see how it must have been like for people writing a constitution for their new nation- I also met lots of very interesting and frighteningly multi-lingual people. I took a dictaphone along with me, so click on the soundcloud below to hear a bit more about what’s going on in Europe.

Is Vancouver Fashion Week a complete scam?

We received the following from Canadian interns who want to expose Vancouver Fashion Week for the mass-intern-exploitation-event that it is- or seems to be. The more comments we could get about this the better, we want to know if any of you guys have heard about this or know someone who can back up their story. If all of what they say is true (it sounds depressingly likely) we also want to know what the good people of Vancouver are going to do about it!

Have a look at Vancouver Fashion Weak’s website. It has statements from many of us, and more will come. There are detailed explanations of peoples’ experience in their internship. The post was not intended to defame, this is clear abuse of the internship program and a backlash from the students.

We don’t know much about the legality of our situation but we know what is happening is wrong. Basically, we all became interns with Vancouver Fashion Week without realizing that the organization is structured in two parts, with one producer who incorporated the name Vancouver Fashion Week, and over 100+ interns.

There is no management or structure within the company, no accountants or budget, and we are given tasks beyond our capabilities and manage each other based on who interviewed first. Because of this, there is a turn around of interns daily and weekly, with many of us given the responsibility to ‘interview and hire’ another barrage of interns. Also, we are expected to recruit and take money from designers & sponsors without any information on even a location for fashion week this fall and we are all very worried.

We are in a position where we cannot even discuss these issues within the organization, because there isn’t one with employees who could help us except for the producer. A past ‘intern’ wrote her Masters thesis on VFW a couple years back, which will paint a clearer picture for you.

BIS publishes new guidelines- let’s hope this pudding tastes good

So the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  The delicious pudding being the new guidelines regarding the payment of the national minimum wage published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (I was about to type business, enterprise and regulatory reform, I miss the old names, I really do)

Of course we’re really pleased with these guidelines because they support the idea that NMW regulations should apply to all potential workers, including unpaid interns. The guidance is comprehensive and includes tests which employers can do themselves to work out when they should or shouldn’t be paying the NMW to their staff. NMW regulations and the definition of intern or worker are often characterised as confusing but we hope that these legal tests will provide some clarity to employers who are genuinely not sure whether they are obliged to pay their interns.

As the TUC has stated and as the evidence submitted to the Low Pay Commission this year has reinforced:

The growing misuse of interns is becoming one of the biggest abuses of the minimum wage.

And by consequence, the TUC adds,

It’s good to see the government finally taking this issue seriously, and it’s essential that today’s guidance is used by young people to ensure that they get paid what they are due.

So what’s the caveat? Guidelines and the law need to be both publicised and reinforced. So firstly, we’d like to promote these guidelines far and wide- but also see the government doing the same (we know there have been a lot of cuts to communications budgets but what’s the point of publishing guidelines if no one reads them?) Secondly, as the TUC has stated, rules mean nothing without the necessary reinforcement- so, for example, the Pay and Work rights helpline needs to be able to follow up complaints and persistent offenders need to be investigated.

Women’s mags: not all lip gloss and smiles

I have been interning at a variety of magazines since graduating from university last year. Currently I’ve been seeking internships in women’s mags as that is my chosen field. It’s a really competitive area, but when I managed to land a 5 week placement with a well-known mag – ohmygod so excited! I knew the name would look great on my CV. I was super excited but that excitement quickly wore off once I got there.

My first day, I was eased in. Logged in the new beauty products that had come in for the team, called and e-mailed some PRs about samples and press releases and the (never done before) activity of getting the lunch for the boss. I know as an intern I’m expected to do the dirty work, do the things the paid can’t be bothered to do but really? I was interning in a building which happens to have an assortment of food places situated at the bottom – several floors down. It would have taken her FIVE minutes to get in the lift, walk out the door and into the take-away but nope, instead she handed me £10 and asked me to buy her some lunch. I was cool with that, thinking it was a one off – it happened again the next day too.

Now the beauty team claim to REALLY need an intern, they are supposed to be an important part of the team. First of all, my desk was nowhere near the teams, I was given no temporary e-mail, had to use my own personal one which created problems at later dates when contacting PRs. The team were nice enough but the work…there wasn’t much.  At a push, I was busy for half to 3/4 of the morning with logging the new products and then would have to spend most of the day asking for something to do.

During the time I actually spent with the team I asked to leave early on a few occasions – once because of the riots, another for a family member’s birthday and I was REALLY sick in my third (and final) week. They knew I wasn’t feeling too hot, but they didn’t care. I was told I couldn’t leave early on a Wednesday (it was blatant I wasn’t well and shouldn’t have really gone in but I did still) until I had finished everything. I finished as much as I possibly could and was finally allowed to leave at 3pm – not really worth it but I was home and in bed by 4:30pm. I called in sick for the Thursday as I wanted to get better but when I e-mailed my superior to say I was feeling rough, I received an angry reply about how I’d had too much time off and asked to send over the information for some props for a shoot – not ‘hope you feel better, see you Friday.’

I didn’t even rest on that day as I was on the phone trying to find a prop, which was much harder to find than anticipated. The Beauty Director finally e-mailed me at 4pm to say ‘don’t worry, we have some – for free.” WHAT, I’d spent the entire day on the computer and phone, not sleeping and resting to battle my cold. 

The Friday morning I came in to a desk piled up with products – completely unnecessary to be honest. They could have neatly put all of the new bags to one side of my desk but they had just thrown them all over the chair and computer area which meant I had to spend the first ten minutes of my morning cleaning up the desk so I could actually GET to my computer. The team arrived gone 10am and I was promptly asked to go downstairs to get a Starbucks for one of the writers – a Starbucks she would have just walked past. I spent the afternoon of that Friday doing absolutely nothing, I’d asked around 5 times for something but there was nothing.

The icing on the cake was that the director strolled into the office at 5:30pm after being on a shoot all day and interviewing a celebrity. Instead of talking to me, she was met by one of the fashion team where they tried on some new shoes for a wedding and gossiped about the celebrity etc – during office hours. The previous day the director had asked to chat with me, now if it was something important you might put it higher on your list than trying on your Jimmy Choos and gushing about your wedding next year!

I left the office gone 6pm as I had just been sitting idly for the previous two hours, waiting to talk to my superior. She was busy chatting about a famous singer so I didn’t see it my place to interrupt an important conversation…I checked my e-mail that Friday evening to find I had been fired. She had emailed me at 7:30pm to say I had made dozens of mistakes (she only gave one example), that I had asked to leave early too many times (3 times over 3 weeks) and in general I wasn’t enthusiastic or hard working enough. 

I was GUTTED. I take my placements as a job, professional and I always do my best. She hadn’t bothered to even say hello to me when she eventually strolled in yet I was being told I was the one not making an effort? She had even made it seem like I was trying to steal expensive products form the cupboard (wouldn’t even imagine doing such a thing). I replied to her e-mail that night but guess what? It’s been nearly two weeks and she hasn’t contacted me. I had to phone the assistant in the end to get some answers – I didn’t think you could really be booted from an internship for not being chatty enough. 

I would love to warn people about this person but unfortunately I can’t do it on my own blog without sabotaging my future career. If I had been making obvious mistakes then why had no one informed me before? I have always thought that internships are for learning and to be taught but I wasn’t taught anything. The only thing I’ve come away with is my confidence in a pile of rubble. They didn’t help me in the slightest and I just needed to get this out there!

 


Interns Anonymous

We want this website to be 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.

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Interns Anonymous accept no responsibility for the contents of the blog, comments or any other content on this site that is posted or provided by third parties. This website is designed to act as a forum for interns to share experiences and opinions about their work, therefore, we will not censor opinions we do not agree with. The opinions stated in blog contributions do not represent those of Interns Anonymous. We disclaim all liability for such content to the fullest extent permitted by law. If you have any queries please email us.

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