The SWEAT Team

May 22, 2009

Overt at The Watercooler, a forum on the British film industry, there’s an entire section [update: broken link] for posts on unpaid jobs – whether they are called internships or else. The debate is well-informed and heated at times. The industry is hit hard there as much as anywhere else and people who want to enter the industry are getting frustrated, with good reasons.

There’s an informative thread answering some common question about regulations, volunteers and competition.

The issue is that many Film and TV companies are breaking the law with regard to not paying young people the National Minimum Wage where it is due. They will take on someone as a “runner” or “work experience” (using the claim that it is “good for your CV” or “good experience”) and then not pay them. This is illegal. Every worker (with a few minor exceptions) is entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage for every hour they work.

It’s worth noting that SWEAT stands for “Stop Working Experience Abuse Today”. Have a look at the list of successes that they claim.


Better for the company?

May 9, 2009

In “The Ethicist” column of the New York Times, Roger Randy Cohen, had a look at “coffee run interns“. His first sentence is illuminating:

If only “better for the company” were synonymous with “ethical,” I would have an easier job.

Some employers try to justify hiring an intern under unfair conditions because it will be good for their company, because they couldn’t afford the staff otherwise. That’s called free labor and it’s obviously illegal. Let it be clear: an intern is there for its own benefit and not for that of the company. That is why he is un(der)paid. If the company benefits, pay him and call him an employee.

This is also a good opportunity to clarify the intent of this blog. Some people feel that internships are unfair because they involve menial tasks and are boring. While this is certainly a concern, the main issue that this blog seeks to address is those internships where the work is actually very relevant, but where the employee is not paid or below the legal wage. This practice goes unchecked because the employees are called interns. That doesn’t make it fair or legal.

Keep your own House in order

May 6, 2009

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons in London, Chris Bryant, is not only a lawmaker but also part of the management of the Parliament. As part of a review of the working conditions of MP staffers, he was asked a question about the labor (or labour) practices of the Parliament. More specifically, he was asked about internships:

7th Question from the floor: What about interns? The situation is not satisfactory will they look at their pay and expenses?

CB: Personally I feel very uncertain about the situation with interns.

  1. It is not good to employ people for free
  2. It is not right that people with contacts or wealth get on in professional life because they have those two things.

I will not criticise colleagues who have interns and I know people are prepared to volunteer because they are so passionate about it. It is not our intention that the independent Committee on Standards and Public Life will look at that although the work being done by Alan Milburn on access to the professions may address it. I think interns should be a separate issue and I would support a formal system of internships like they have in the EU.

Notice how the MP makes very good points about how the labor market should operate. If lawmakers start respecting the labour laws, maybe they’ll feel less uneasy about enforcing them.

(via Interns Anonymous)

Intern Abuse?

May 5, 2009

Michelle Conlin in Business Week about the rise of unfair internships during the economic crisis:

Flung into the worst labor market since the 1940s, these college-educated strivers are stuck on the lowest rung of the labor market. Making matters worse: the shriveling—and in some cases disappearing—pay. Free labor, anyone?

Quote from Lauren Berger, self-titled Intern Queen, that should give pause to those who say that interns are not paid because they bring no value.

Many companies have interns running their entire social media campaigns. Students have already integrated social networking tools like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter into their everyday lives so it’s much easier to have a student run these areas than hiring a new employee that might have to first learn about them.

Sometimes you wonder what it’s going to take.

Interns Anonymous – the web series

May 4, 2009

There may not be a Supreme Court case yet, but there is a web series about the lot of interns: Interns Anonymous. There’s a pilot and a second episode already online, with a third in the works. Two lines from the dialogue:

– Your internship is like a full-time job.
– Yeah, but I’m working with the guy whose job I’m gonna take!

One character mentions setting up a support group in the pilot. Until this comes to the real world, watching the series may make you feel less alone if you’re in an unafir internship. And who knows, maybe one of these interns will report or sue their employer.

At university as in the real world

May 3, 2009

From Mark C. Taylor at the New York Times, in an article called “End the university as we know it“, this should sound familiar to our readers.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

How graduate students are used against their own interest is very similar to how interns are used in unfair internships.