The insidious rise in unpaid internships can run afoul of federal guidelines

March 29, 2010

Steve Duin, at The Oregonian, gets it right when he points out that the media isn’t supposed to hire staff for free. A good quote:

[Interns] don’t know that being trained for a job at their own expense has been “illegal forever,” to quote Oregon’s former labor commissioner, Jack Roberts.

Most interestingly, Steve Duin refers to successful court cases against unfair internships:

Roberts and Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries could point me to only three successful wage claims for bogus internships, against Centron Solar, Design for Home and Cart De Frisco International Inc., a food-cart operation.

It is a rare occurrence, so let’s see if we can find out more details.


UK: The trade unions enter the fight

March 25, 2010

Today, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is launching a website called “Right for interns“.

This Rights for Interns website provides information and advice on the rights interns should expect, allows them to share their experiences and explains the benefits of joining a union.

It is about time that a union make a systematic effort to reach out to interns. They seem to understand that:

There’s a real head of steam on this issue now.  Some might argue this is well overdue.  There’s still a mindset out there that thinks that interns working for free is just a normal part of working life.  We need to work together to change this.

It is in the interest of the unions since their next generation of members is facing this problem. Its source is also the same that lead to the creation of unions: a collective action problem. Interns have no bargaining power as their are competing against each other. This experience can teach them the value of collective bargaining.

The website has a neat section on the rights of interns that explains why the title “intern” does not allow to underpay an employee. And they have a sort of survey, for which I hope that they will release some data later – go fill it if you’re in the UK.

Welcome to the fight, TUC.

BBC: “Unpaid internships ‘breaking minimum wage law'”

March 8, 2010

More mainstream media coversage in the UK. The BBC Radio 5 on the issue of unfair internships:

Concerns have also been raised that companies recruiting unpaid interns, like Craig, are actually breaking the minimum wage law.

Oh, really? An intern puts it in his own words:

“When you’re asking people to do important things which a company needs to be done, and you want them to be there over a long period of time, it does become work which needs to be paid.”

Well said. Why this simple rule goes out the door when an employee is called an “intern” baffles me.