Internships: The Scandal of Britain’s Unpaid Army

November 15, 2011

The Guardian has two excellent articles on the scandal (their word) of unfair internships. Internships: the scandal of Britain’s unpaid army makes the point that internships are not an option.

With youth unemployment approaching the one million mark, getting to the first rung of the employment ladder has never been harder for Britain’s young people. As competition grows so too have the barriers, including the need to have experience of the workplace before securing a paid job.

Gone are the days when a week’s placement during the school holidays at your parent’s company could make your CV stand out. Now school leavers and even graduates are expected to have months of varied experiences to cut the mustard at interview. The problem, civil servants admit, has become endemic.

Even more interesting is Interns work – and should be paid, lawyers warn ministers:

Thousands of unpaid interns could be entitled to compensation after government legal advice emerged suggesting employers are breaking the law by not following national minimum wage rules.

It is no surprise that someone with legal background sees the travesty of unfair internships, but it is quite pleasant to see the government’s lawyers acknowledge it.

All this activity in the UK is cause for optimism. Much the way that rock and roll then rap became respectable as their fans grew older, it is possible that as more victims of unfair internships get in position of power (including writing for The Guardian), the more crackdown there will be on the practice (cue in The times they are a-changin‘).

Advertisements

Voluntary Sector: Interns should be paid a fair wage

February 18, 2011

Another way in which volunteering and internships meet is when volunteer organizations hire “interns”. Janet Fleming, from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, makes the ethical case in The Guardian:

So the lack of both money and access to networks compounds existing social and economic inequalities. Given that so many organisations in the voluntary sector work to overcome social and economic inequality and to improve the lives and opportunities of people and their communities, surely we have an obligation to ensure that internships in our sector are open to young people from all social and financial backgrounds.

Put your money where your heart is?


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.


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!