Four years too many

July 30, 2010

It’s been four years today that this blog has been addressing the issue of unfair internships. There is no reason to celebrate. This is not a blog that’s meant to last. This is a blog that’s meant to to self-destruct by bringing attention to a scandal hidden in plain sight. It’s hidden behind your newspapers who employ unpaid interns in staff position. It’s hidden in the first job experiences that so many of you had. It’s hidden in the colleges where students are encouraged to take some practical training, even unpaid, because Lord knows their intellectual training makes them worthless and they won’t have the time in the next 40 years to gain practical experience. It’s hidden in the cubicle next to yours.

At least, in those four years, we have seen seen some positive trends. In the UK, there’s a serious campaign around the parliament to ban unfair internships. In the US, the Department of Labor is finally paying attention. In Europe, outside of the UK, there’s been some talks of a European Quality Charter in Internships but other than that, not much. The mainstream media ran a few stories, if not enough by a mile.

Let’s hope that a year from now there will be more to celebrate, and four years from now, we won’t have to be here.


BBC Should End Unpaid Work Experience

July 25, 2010

Wow, get that: Andy Durham, the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports (and Miscellaneous?) criticized the BBC for taking unpaid staff in actual jobs, what we call here unfair internships:

“There are young people working within the BBC for long periods without pay. This is not fair to them, but more importantly it excludes many others who simply don’t have the means to support themselves,” said Mr Burnham. “We look to our national broadcaster to set a better example and not take advantage of the desire of young people to work within the media. The BBC needs to show leadership and put an end to this practice immediately.”

Well said! Now that’s courageous!

Oh, wait…

He’s no longer in power.

On the voluntary nature of unfair internships

July 23, 2010

This piece by Sarah Geraghty is for those who think that unfair internships are “voluntary”.

An American friend, job-searching on Capitol Hill for the previous month (…) uses the rush-hour tailbacks to pass on his concerns about how often he’s been advised to concentrate his search on an unpaid internship rather than an entry-level job. What with him being in his mid-20s, with a cumulative two years of unpaid work experience, including a stint on Capitol Hill, a year in a law firm, not to mention his master’s degree, he’d arrived here assuming that he’d paid his internship dues. Apparently not.


But I am bashing a system that is undoubtedly prohibitive for a large portion of college students who made it into college on merit but at a certain point hit a wall which, they are told, is unavoidable, giving the more affluent ones the chance to race ahead. And I’m also bashing a system that encourages students with expensive degrees and often some degree of work experience to compete against each other for the privilege of sitting at the front desk of an office, fielding phone-calls from verbally abusive stone-mad constituents, or maintaining a “filing” system that’s comprised of newspaper cuttings from 2005.

They are voluntary like crossing the street is voluntary.

Young, Educated and Unpaid

July 22, 2010

Jett Wells: “I’m an unpaid intern who made a short documentary about unpaid internships.”

You can find it below and on the Huffington Post where Jett, the son of a film critic, has 20 entries, apparently all unpaid. At least, they let him publish this piece. When will the media realize that they need to lead by example? Or that they can’t be neutral on an issue from which they benefit so much?

“the amount (sic) of interns and companies that employ interns who turned down the opportunity to talk to me because they were afraid was remarkable. When did unpaid internships become the norm, and why? That’s what I wanted to get to the bottom of.”

I’m not sure that the video accomplishes this goal, but naming the companies that refused to talk to him would already have been quite informative. What’s so embarrassing? It’s legal and moral, right? Interns do it voluntarily after all, so what is there to hide?

Intern laws tough to navigate?

July 21, 2010

Another lawyer looks at internships. You know what’s coming:

Probably the most important lesson to be taken away is that the temptation to have an intern open or deliver the mail, help with the filing, answer the telephones or run menial errands should be accompanied with a paycheck.


European Quality Charter on Internships – An Update

July 19, 2010

The last and only time we mentioned the European Quality Charter on Internships was in December… 2007. It was promised for 2008. Not surprisingly perhaps, it is still nowhere to be seen, but a symbolic milestone was crossed this month when members of the European Parliament (a deliberative body with mild powers but the weight of democratic legitimacy for the European Union) reminded the Council (executive branch) and Commission (executive branch too!) of their promise. This should put to rest the idea that it is an Anglo-American problem:

“Traineeships are part of education and must not replace real jobs,” insisted Turunen, stressing that it was high time for the Commission to act.

The idea of a charter was triggered by youth organisations, which see a worrying trend developing in the midst of the crisis, whereby employers are hiring trainees to reduce costs.

The practice of recruiting interns instead of employees, without labour law protection and often with no or very limited financial compensation, limits young people’s chances of being fully integrated into society, said YFJ Secretary-General Giuseppe Porcaro.

“Especially in times of crisis, the lack of legal requirements or clear quality guidelines and educational schemes may lead to exploitation and precariousness that is undermining the main aim of the internships: to be an educational experience,” Porcaro added.

Even the original resolution describes the problem:

C.   whereas employers seem to be using traineeships and internships more frequently to replace regular employment, thereby exploiting the obstacles to entering the labour market faced by young people; whereas such forms of exploitation of young people need to be addressed and effectively eradicated by Member States

And here’s what the MEPs are asking:

21.  Calls for better and secured internships; calls on the Commission and the Council, following the commitment given in Communication COM(2007)0498 “to propose an initiative for a European quality charter on internships”, to set up a European Quality Charter on Internships setting out minimum standards for internships to ensure their educational value and avoid exploitation, taking into account that internships form part of education and must not replace actual jobs. These minimum standards should include an outline of the job description or qualifications to be acquired, a time limit on internships, a minimum allowance based on standard-of-living costs in the place where the internship is performed that comply with national traditions, insurance in the area of their work, social security benefits in line with local standards and a clear connection to the educational programme in question;

Most interestingly, they also ask the Commission to track statistics on internships. That’d be nice.

See you in two years and a half for another walk in the courtyard, European Charter!