Young, talented and working for free: the video

October 27, 2009

They had a great idea over at InternsAnonymous.co.uk: a series of interviews about internships.

It’s time to put a few faces on the issue, to make it more real and personal. Let’s hope there will be some more of these videos.

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Follow legal rules when hiring unpaid interns

October 23, 2009

The title of this article from TechRepublic is nothing new to this blog and shouldn’t surprise anyone who lives in a lawful society. Now, it may surprise people who live in countries that shall remain nameless.

Since we’ve covered the fact that the law does not allow for free labor a few times, here’s a selection of recommendations that on which we haven’t insisted yet.

Decide beforehand if the business has the time and personnel to closely supervise and mentor an unpaid intern.

Wait a second, some may say, an intern will take time and staff? Yes, and more than it will provide labor. An internship is a training that a company is offering, not free help that it is receiving. Now this:

When in doubt, businesses can avoid legal problems by paying interns at least minimum wage.

Isn’t it cool: minimum wage will get a company out of trouble! Quite cheap. But it’s really a minimum. If a company needs staff to do something productive that adds to the bottom line, why not offer a fair pay?


Using Facebook against unfair internships

October 22, 2009

There’s a Facebook group called “Interns Must Be Paid The Minimum Wage” started in the UK but that really applies to any country where unfair internships are prevalent, sometimes despite laws against them. There are some interesting debates going on. Their goal is to get the attention of the British Parliament and their rationale is sound:

It’s a basic principle that no career path should be closed, whatever our parents’ backgrounds. It is an even more basic principle that people doing work should be paid for it.

And Phil Willis, British Member of Parliament, also put together his own Facebook group, Campaign for Fair Parliamentary Internships, to support his campaign in favor of fair internships at Westminster, for politicians should set an example (following the law would already be a nice first step). It’s encouraging that he seems to be really serious about this issue.

Parliament of all places should be able to set the example, and be accessible to all, regardless of financial background.

Join these groups if you agree with them and, even if you don’t, join the debate.


UK: FAQ about Internships and Minimum Wage

October 22, 2009

Great document put together by the UK Department for Business Innovation & Skills: Internships and National Minimum Wage – Frequently Asked Questions. The answers do not surprise us the slightest.

Does it matter what I call the internship/job? Whether someone is entitled to the national minimum wage depends on the actual circumstances of the arrangement, not the title given to the job or the role.

As they say in the UK: What’s in a name?

They make an interesting distinction between “worker” and “volunteer”.

If you have a contract of employment then you are a worker. (…) A volunteer does not have any form of contract of employment or contract to perform work or provide services.

And before any employer think they have found the loophole, note that “the contract does not need to be written”.

This is an argument that always puzzle me: interns are paid in work experience. Who doesn’t gain work experience through their job? How does that cancel the need to pay an employee? The BIS does not tiptoe around the issue when asked whether someone who is doing work experience needs to be paid:

Someone who enters into an agreement or contract to work for experience will be a “worker” for national minimum wage purposes and entitled to be paid the national minimum wage in the normal way, unless they are a genuine volunteer or fall into one of the groups who are exempt.

And very importantly, they provide guidance on how to report an unfair internship in the UK:

If someone thinks they are a “worker” and not being paid the national minimum wage, they can ring the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368 (Text phone 0800 121 4042). The Helpline is open from 8 am to 8 pm (Monday to Friday) and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.

Please do.


UK Parliament urged to respect interns

October 21, 2009

A British political party has taken the side of interns:

Parliament should “set the standard for the rest of the nation” on the treatment of interns, Phil Willis has said.The Liberal Democrat MP’s comments came as around 100 interns, MPs and lobbyists gathered in Parliament on Monday night to demand an end to the abuse of “generation intern”.

This is good news.

David Willetts told the event: “I can sense this is the start of a movement, it feels like an uprising.”

Let’s hope so.


Fair internships: the business case

October 20, 2009

“Never Hire Interns Without Paying Them” is a good title for an article about internships. Richard Bottner, CEO of Intern Bridge, makes the business case for hiring paid interns. In short:

But how can [employers] hire the best and brightest when having unpaid internship programs cuts them off from perhaps 40% of the potential applicant pool?

There’s another argument, not heard often enough: liabilities.

Unpaid internships can leave employers open to increased liability by financially binding them to students’ universities if liabilities arise, such as workers compensation obligations.

That is: if you do something illegal, you may end up in court. Employers bet on the discretion (powerlessness) of the interns, but what if they break a leg in the stairs and have to expain what they were doing at the workplace?

Richard has no illusions as to why companies offer unfair internships:

Companies that host unpaid internships without any real oversight typically do so for the wrong reason–to exploit cheap labor.

This is the first time that I see any statistic about the number or the proportion of unfair internships. It appears to be based on a nationwide (US) survey of 42,000 college students.

At present, one of every five internships in the U.S. has an illegal compensation structure. (…) Education, entertainment, journalism, nonprofits and law are among the most notorious offenders.

So 20% of internships would have an illegal compensation structure – that’s an illegal practice hidden in plain sight. You never heard of it? Of course: the media and the lawyers are the worst offenders. Not to mention the proportion of lawmakers who hire interns.

There’s a noteworthy quote in the comments section of the article:

“There are certainly industries that seem to be almost collusive in their agreement to not pay their interns” – Albert C. Cabral, President, National Society for Experiential Education Board of Directors

“Collusion” is not a term that one wants associated with their industry.


Canada: The Rising Cost of Working for Free

October 19, 2009

The Canadian radio show The Current on CBC talked about “intern culture” on October 8th. It was a rare look into the whole phenomenon: why and how students get into internships, what kind of experience they get, and why employers hire interns.

Anya Kamenetz was on the show (and was kind enough to mention this blog). She presented her perspective on how internships do not level the playing field by favoring those who can afford to work for free.

Three former interns tell typical stories of trying to get ahead of each other. One of them talking about an acquaintance who was an intern for five years. It’s a bit sad thought to hear how much they take it for granted that one has to go through internships to enter the job market.

Overall, the tone of the segment was fairly sympathetic to the interns and wary of unfair internships, which is refreshing to hear in mainstream media, especially from those who employ interns.