Archive for the 'News' Category

Archiving Interns Anonymous

It is with a large dose of geek joy that I read an email we just received from the British Library Web Archiving programme- they want to archive Interns Anonymous as part of their project to ‘represent aspects of UK documentary heritage’. This means they take care of every part of the site, even backing it up on a hard drive (in case the internet breaks?), so researchers in the future can read it.

As a history PhD-er, I’m pretty up for seeing something I co-set up become history before my very eyes…as our Policy-Officer-Hero-of-the-Hour, Joseph Thomas says, ‘I never doubted whether we were culturally significant. I think this warrants a blog post’.

If you’re reading this, future researcher, you can imagine me sitting in a cafe writing this, imagining you reading this.

Rosy Rickett

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.

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.

Is the Home Office abusing unpaid interns?

Lib Dem MP Bob Russell tabled a motion saying that “those undertaking work experience should not be offered jobs that would otherwise be filled by paid employees.”

The Home Office were allegedly employing 20 interns while making staff redundant.

This situation is not new and has been happening across every industry since we set up this blog. The first example we heard of was a commercial art gallery which sacked its lowest level of staff and gave their unpaid interns all their responsibilities.

The interns working for the Home Office were working in the UK’s main office for immigration and asylum enquiries.

HAT TIP – People Management magazine

Time to skip the country?

Some articles for you to peruse over on BBC news, here and here. Graduate unemployment has risen to 8.9% of the total graduate population, which represents a 17-year high. Degrees with smaller than average  unemployment rates include Geography and Psychology- who knew?

Two things to say about these articles. One, we haven’t had this level of graduate unemployment since 1993. In 2010 there are more graduates in total, so higher actual numbers of graduates are unemployed than in 1993.  Two, unpaid interns are probably not included in that figure because they cannot claim JSA. 

With unemployment, unpaid internships and soon to be bank-breaking tuition fees does anyone else think that a mass exodus is on the cards? What’s the best way of avoiding the curse of the student loan? Get out of the UK…

Money for nothing?

If we are going to ask students to pay tens of thousands of pounds for a degree then we need to have a proper debate about whether that degree is actually worth the investment. I loved my degree but was it worth £18,000?

On leaving Uni and spending my first year after graduating being rejected from every job I applied for – I realised that 3 years of study had in no way prepared me for the world of work. I had nothing that employers wanted in a potential recruit.

Graduates see unpaid internships as the only avenue into paid work and increasingly, employers see unpaid internships as the solution to staffing problems. If you can’t get a decent job with your degree how exactly can it pay itself back?

Clearly, a degree does not guarantee a high salary and success – I am sure many of your friends are testament to this. But then, back in the day going to university wasn’t a cold-hard economic decision.

Until we address the problem of graduate unemployment and the uncertainty in the job market, we cannot expect prospective students to saddle themselves with debts the size of mortgages.

When the metropolitan police force wants wannabee officers to work for free for 12 months before applying to entry level positions; when large numbers of graduate schemes have been axed; when a third of call centre workers are now graduates, you’ve got to wonder how reasonable it is to ratchet up fees for university students without even discussing how to make university a better investment.

For many graduate schemes a degree is a pre-requisite – but bar a piece of paper saying ‘2-1’ or ‘first’ how else has a degree prepared you for writing job applications?

Unpaid internships are already the preserve of those who can afford to work for free, live in London or have the right connections. Soon university won’t be that much different.

Big employers need to show the way- Unpaid workers should not be exploited

News that says interns should be paid! Same old same old or the start of something?

A little light slavery never did anyone any harm

Charmingly entitled ‘A little slavery does us all good’, Julia Margo’s article in the Sunday Times, 15th August, sets out the reasons why she thinks we need to increase the number of unpaid internships on offer, rather than get companies to pay their interns. She also entertains us by telling us about the time when she, an erstwhile intern, rocked up to work in a law firm wearing a crop top. Reading the article, I found myself overwhelmed by the quality of prose and incisive analysis on offer but I have to admit the following section is my out and out favourite:

‘While I count myself lucky to have been able to benefit from the inspiring work experience I had, policy wonks are immersed in debate about whether unpaid interns are in fact being exploited. To explore that claim, I spoke to one of the 450 unpaid interns who work in parliament: she said she had gained a lot and didn’t feel exploited at all.’

Oh wow, you spoke to one intern? And she didn’t feel exploited? Thank God for that, now we can be sure that no other interns anywhere in the world feel or are exploited. Obviously I don’t want to be associated with the ‘policy wonks’ (by the way Julia is Acting Director of the think-tank Demos, which is there to do what exactly? Policy wonk.) – but I would like to draw Ms Margo’s attention to the views of the more-than-one-intern who have emailed us and taken our surveys in the past two years. The following are a selection of quotes from our inexperienced, crop top wearing and, let’s be honest, moronic interns:

‘I feel the internship system in the UK is hardly human anymore’

‘I am now cold towards politics as a career’

‘it should be made illegal’

‘the company I worked for were making people redundant and stuffing interns into their positions’

‘I took the internship on the understanding that I would get a job but three months in it is clear that neither me nor the three interns I work with are going to be employed’

‘I learnt new skills but 5 months without pay and 2 months unemployed have made life pretty difficult’

‘this was a sad waste of time’

‘this is the worst thing I have done in my life! I work a 60 hour week, I am petrified of my boss who calls me lazy but I love parliament and I don’t want to quit in case it makes me look bad’

‘it was an utter waste of time’

‘I am sick of this shit’

OK you get the picture.

This isn’t to say that some internships don’t provide skills and don’t allow people to settle into a good work ethic but it saddens me to see unpaid work supported so whole heartedly by someone who should be able to see that economically, socially and even- dare I say it- morally, asking or expecting or allowing people to work for free is wrong.

Turning down the violin soundtrack and ignoring the yelps of bitter, resentful interns- from a practical standpoint work that doesn’t pay can only ever be a stopgap, it solves a problem in the short term, a bit like getting the Dutch kid who used his hand to stem a leak in a dyke to stand there forever instead of getting help. The kid’s arm would get tired and eventually Holland would be in a worse situation.

Let’s look at one of the main problems that internships are supposed to solve:

How do we solve youth unemployment in this country?

Encourage growth, more jobs.

I know I know it’s not as simple as that (maybe it is) but internships DO NOT get people jobs- they, in the words of a particularly witty intern, ‘prove that you’re not in prison’. Jobs get people jobs. Our survey of 249 interns found that 82% of them did not get a job in the organization they interned with. Frankly, we all know what the problem is- there are not enough jobs- we need to look at this issue straight in the eye, like Crocodile Dundee would look at a raging buffalo. Graduates are not getting as many jobs as they should because there are not enough jobs, NOT because they are particularly stupid, under-experienced or crop-top wearing.

You thought I was going to shut up now but it turns out I’m not. Here is another great bit from Julia’s article:

‘The best way to ruin opportunities for thousands of graduates would be to insist that internships are paid. Employers would simply offer fewer placements if they had to pay — they already invest a fair amount of staff time in them. Worse, paying interns would pollute the whole process and ultimately lead to internships being conflated with entry-level jobs, thus excluding exactly the kind of fresh graduates who benefit most from the opportunities. Who would pay a useless graduate when you can hire a recession-hit 25-year-old? I once worked in an organisation that paid its interns. As a result, we recruited through a formal process and took only those with prior experience.


Paying interns would pollute the whole process and ultimately lead to internships being conflated with entry level jobs’. But wait! Hold up! The trouble is, internships are already being conflated with entry-level jobs. So now they’re entry-level jobs without pay. I don’t normally approve of using one person’s experience as evidence of a general trend but what the hell, if Julia does it, so can I: ‘the company I worked for were making people redundant and stuffing interns into their positions’- said one of the interns who took our survey. 

And now my to address my particular bugbear, slagging off shitty graduates who can’t even make a bloody coffee for god’s sake:

Who would pay a useless graduate when you can hire a recession-hit 25-year-old?

Perhaps a company which, as well as not expecting a 25 year old with commensurate experience to take an entry-level job, would also like to invest in its employees, build up their skills base and create a competent, non-resentful workforce. I guess this is about principles and maybe a little bit about old-school Cadbury’s style corporate paternalism. 

Graduates may be depressingly eager to submit to whatever crap the government and the winds of fate throw at them (top up fees, more top up fees, internships, house prices higher than the moon) but they are not useless. Funnily enough, several paid interns we have talked to report a far better learning experience and a far more positive outcome for both them and the employer. Employers have also noticed an improvement in the quality of their intern’s work when they pay them: this is partly for obvious reasons (money grabbing graduates are only happy, effective workers when they can buy booze and drugs) and partly because employers care about money, so if they are spending it, they will make sure they teach the intern what they need to know, give the intern clear tasks or projects and help the intern throughout this process.

I once worked in an organisation that paid its interns. As a result, we recruited through a formal process and took only those with prior experience.

The experience conundrum is a difficult one but to pretend that it doesn’t apply to internships as well as jobs is madness. Let me take a look at w4mp, artsjobs, charity jobs and see if I can find an internship that demands experience. Oh look! I found two that specifically demand experience, here and here. The second organisation would like ‘someone with experience and/or a good understanding of the legal business, preferably with a law degree, interested in improving their understanding about the global legal community and to develop relationships in the industry’. And you can safely bet money that the huge demand for internships mean that despite a lack of explicit demand for experience, you will need experience to stick out from the crowd, unless of course your boyfriend’s mate works for a national newspaper.

‘The 2010 “non-graduate talent pool” (made up of 50% of the youth population) is, of course, extremely unlikely to find any work experience at all. But the government offers basic skills training to help them find rubbish jobs stacking boxes, so that’s okay.’

I am not one to stick up for government policy so why change the habit of a lifetime: patently two wrongs do not make a right. Unemployed school-leavers are facing the same conditions as the rest of us- this doesn’t mean I support the promotion of unpaid internships for graduates. Once again I am going to be incredibly demanding- jobs for all of us! All of us! We all want jobs and we want them now!

Now, I don’t pretend to be Miss Popularity but at least I know more people than Ms Margo who has never met anyone who cannot afford to work for nothing:

‘I have yet to meet a graduate who genuinely cannot afford to work for nothing: sleep on a friend’s floor and work in a bar in the evening, for goodness’ sake.’

In 5 seconds I can think of at least 5 people I know very well who wouldn’t have been able to afford an internship for more than a month, and I am not sure whether my parents (in my case, London based) would have been up for 5 of my friends sleeping on the sofa, for goodness’ sake! (By the way if you put a quaint expression of exasperation at the end of the sentence, people are more likely to suck it up and believe what you say) Also can I just ask why pubs should constantly be supporting graduates through their career search?

Thousands of graduates do this without complaint. As for non-graduates and those from poorer families, these are excluded not by cost but by the snobbery of employers.

Finally something I semi-agree with. But I can assure you that people are excluded from internships as a result of their cost and not living in London, as well as by the  snobbery of employers. The existence of one excluding factor does not preclude the existence of the other. Mind blowing, I know.

‘While debate rages on over whether unpaid interns are exploited or lucky, there is no question as to whether employers benefit: our economy is now secretly running on intern power. What we actually need to do is to increase the number of internships being offered, rather than make companies pay.’

If the economy is indeed secretly running on intern power (well it’s not such a secret in the case of Demos- the think-tank which Julia is currently directing) then what does that say about our society? That we value our young people so poorly we demand that they work for free, something that is anathema to most sane people; that whilst praying for the economy to grow, we are actively stunting it by restricting ‘thousands’ to a pittance that they will then spend on…Sainsbury’s basics beans? Just what is the point of increasing the number of internships when all that would lead to is graduates having to step up the number of internships they did to stand out? By increasing the expectation of unpaid work, all you do is discourage paid work, which is- let’s not forget- one of the pillars of a successful economy.

What do you think? Have I gone crazy or is Julia Margo crazy? (Judge for yourself- when we have sorted out rights and posted the article- Sunday Times needs a subscription and we don’t want to make them mad).

Why Interns Need a Fair Wage

We’ve been away on holiday for a week, so almost forgot to mention the fantastic report written by IPPR and our friends at Internocracy last week

Brilliant media coverage. Highlights here, here, here and here

It even included Uni Minister David Willetts saying:

…the exploitation of interns is unacceptable and employment legislation must not be breached

£2.50 an hour for working as an intern?… you must be joking!

My reaction to the recent proposals saying interns should be paid a ‘training wage’ of 2.50 an hour was shock and disbelief. In fact, it was to whisper “bullshit” under my breath several times. A reader has written in with their thoughts: 

This week has been a hot one for internships featured in the media. Not only have Allen&Overy released some interesting findings on the inaccessibility of internships, but the CIPD has come out with an idea for a ‘training wage’ for interns, suggesting that this will enable more employers to pay interns.

This is a rate of £2.50 an hour for anyone working as an intern – the same as anyone working as an apprentice. According to the CIPD it is a ‘good solution’, because if all businesses were urged to pay full NMW to an intern, ’30-40 per cent of opportunities would disappear’.

Well let them, I say.

If business can’t host an intern, can’t pay a (very) reasonable wage and can’t see why this isn’t wrong, the ‘opportunity’ becomes another form of exploitation. The CIPD’s proposed solution, a halfway-house between nothing at all and NMW, is insulting to graduates coming out of university having just invested the best part of £25,000 in building their skills and abilities.

The parallel with apprenticeships is also slightly deceptive. Apprentices embark on a well-laid out course of work and study, with controls over the type of work they can do, and how much time they should spend at work. If interns had these sorts of safety nets, and a prescribed course of learning on the job, the ‘training wage’ might be more appropriate as it would include a package of well-thought-out areas in which the employer would be expected to give them some training.

I also have to take issue with the way in which this ‘training wage’ is presented as some sort of solution to the horrendous lack of social mobility in internships. Take London as an example. Paying young people NMW is still around £2 per hour less than the London Living Wage. So how do we expect an intern to live off half of that, in addition to perhaps having to move to and find a flat in London, unless they are supported by well-off parents or have family already in the area.

The reality of living on NMW in a city like London is stark – much starker than the impact paying it has on an organisation. The CIPD seems not to have thought through the economic realities for the young person, whilst offering concessions to organisations left, right and centre.

Many businesses complain that they are not able to pay interns. My response to that would be to find a new business model. If a profit-making organisation is relying on unpaid workers, that is illegal. The simple message is: if you can’t afford to have interns, don’t offer an internship. Because it’s not an opportunity – it’s exploitation.

Fancy getting in touch?

Does anyone feel they’ve been exploited through a recent work experience/internship? If so, BBC News is keen to hear about it. All info will be treated in total confidence. They are particularly interested in young people who’ve ended up doing unpaid work outside the world of media and politics.

If anyone wants to get in touch then please drop us a short email and we’ll pass the details on.

Tuition fees and serious questions about the ‘value’ of a degree

From the Independent:

Britain’s leading universities raised the prospect of a massive hike in student fees yesterday as the only means of maintaining standards in the face of public spending cuts.

Lord Browne, the former BP chief who is heading a government inquiry into student finance, is coming under increasing pressure to recommend a substantial rise to the current cap on tuition fees of £3,225 a year.

In one submission to him yesterday, the Russell Group – which represents 20 of the country’s leading higher education research institutions – argued in favour of lifting the cap altogether and allowing universities to set their own fees.

If a degree doesn’t prepare you for a job (anyone tried applying for jobs straight out of uni and had much success?) and it costs £20,000 a year to complete… what is the point?

Do tell us what you think…

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.


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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