Excellent piece on BBC news on the situation of unfair internships in the UK, with a nice mention of Interns Anonymous. They have some surprising statistics such as 90% of students work for free and 60% say the experience is not beneficial, according to a survey from the University of Westminster that we couldn’t find…
The New Statesman has a story about unpaid internships in the British Parliament. And there are a lot of them.
Sonnex was one of the estimated 450 revolving interns working in parliament. Together, they prop up our democracy by providing as many as 18,000 hours of free labour a week, saving MPs an estimated £5m a year in labour costs.
Their angle is the unfair advantage given to those who can work for free, which is probably of primary importance when it comes to access to political power. It is a situation that could be about to change.
In October, the Speaker, John Bercow, acknowledged that if interns were doing regular work and regular hours, then minimum-wage legislation should apply. In its investigation into MPs’ expenses, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority supported the Speaker’s statement, reiterating that interns should be paid the minimum wage.
That could spell trouble for the MPs. I wouldn’t mind having them change their way to do the right thing, rather than giving a bad example.
Forbes had an interesting article about the Evolution of Interns back in April. It starts with a fundamental question:
Almost everyone seems to agree that an internship is a valuable part of career development. But if you were in college before the 1980s, chances are you never did anything called interning. So where did the experience come from, and how did it become such a seeming necessity for today’s future job-seekers?
This is an answer to all those who claim that internships are necessary to gain experience before entering the job market formally. If it were the case, unfair internships wouldn’t be a recent invention. First experience on the job market is earned with a first job, which comes with a salary. And the gain of experience never stops from then on.
No, interns are not cheap or free labor. Even the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a socialist rag, is explaining so.
In addition, an unpaid intern shouldn’t do work that provides an “immediate advantage” to the company. For example, an intern who shadows a professional, completes educational tasks that the company won’t use for business or is lectured on certain aspects of a job isn’t performing work that the company can benefit from. But “if you are being asked to do…clerical tasks that would normally be done by a paid employee, that’s generally not going to be legal,” says Jay Zweig, an employment attorney with the firm Bryan Cave in Phoenix.
Soon enough, “everybody’s doing it” won’t be a good excuse anymore.
Seems worth it to hammer one of our favorite nails: informed legal opinion always goes the same way: interns are not free labor up for taking. From Maine:
It’s admirable to mentor the next generation of workers, yet it is nonetheless wise to err on the side of caution by first making sure that your company’s internships do not run afoul of the legal requirements meant to protect employees and employers alike.
In not as many words: if you think that the new generation has something to bring to your company, hire them as paid employees.
Human Resources Executive pretty much gives the same advice (see second question at the bottom). And it raises an important question: what is an intern and what is an employee?
In addressing this question, it is most important to first determine whether the non-paid interns or students are really that — interns or students — and not employees such that the employer is required to pay them in order to comply with the FLSA and related state and city laws.
The assumption is too often that a young employee with little experience is an intern. Or worse: that if you don’t want to pay one of your staff, you can call it an intern. Nope.
The Journal, put together by young journalists and catering to Scottish students, has an interesting article on the active campaign in the UK to ban unfair internships. Internocracy and Intern Aware get mentions. Nice to see that the unions also get a word in the debate.
Ian Tasker, assistant secretary of Scotland’s Trade Union Centre, is concerned at the lack of remuneration that young people see from these internships.
He said: “At the very least these positions should be treated in the same way as any other employment and paid accordingly, at least at the minimum wage rate applicable at any given time.
“To do anything else is just playing on the naivety of young people entering employment. The United Kingdom government and the Scottish Government should be looking at how we eradicate student hardship and not increase the amount of young people living below the poverty line.”
Since new entrants on the job market are not organized, it is important for unions to take a stand, as they realize that unfair internships are a source of cheap labor that competes with their members.