Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Advertising for unpaid interns

In Interns on December 5, 2012 at 3:21 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally posted on December 5, 2012, 3:12 pm at Harry’s Place.

Longer term readers of my blog posts here will be aware that I have argued against the use of unpaid interns. A key reason for my annoyance is that many could be illegal as they would be in breach of the minimum wage legislation. In some industries the practice of use of unpaid interns is not prevalent, but in other industries it seems common practice. It is particularly notorious in areas such as fashion journalism. As implied by an article in this week’s Observer, such practices impede social mobility.

I am therefore delighted to read Shiv Malik’s article in the Guardian that informs us that Hazel Blears has cross-party support for a bill being introduced to parliament to make advertising unpaid internships in breach of the legislation illegal. I hope her bill is passed.

A counter argument might be that banning such advertisements might lead to further difficulties for social mobility as the jobs will be obtained by word of mouth recommendations. Who you know as opposed to what you know will become increasingly important.  However, I do not give that much weight to that argument. What will the young person write on their curriculum vitae who takes such a role if legislation is tightened and enforced? “I worked for XYZ Fashion Magazine illegally so I should be grateful if you do not write to them asking for a reference about the quality of my work, because any response from them might be used as evidence against them in a court of law that they have acted illegally.” It is a nonsense.

The truth is that young people in 2012 are being asked to work for no pay. They are doing similar work, technologically adjusted, to young people in 1992. The difference was that in 1992 the jobs were referred to as graduate trainee jobs, summer jobs, office juniors or entry level jobs, and paid, whereas in 2012 they are often referred to as internships and are unpaid. This development is not a positive one.

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  1. Would you still be opposed if interns were limited to one day a week while in college and had a term limit like one year.

    We have some discussions in the USA about a sub minimum or training wage. Person X is given three months of a training wage with a step increase towards prevailing wages plan.

  2. In the UK, there is an exemption to the minimum wage laws for “a student doing work experience as part of a higher education course.” and “higher and further education students on a work placement up to 1 year.”

    My problem is not really a 17 year student studying car mechanics at a college who takes 2 weeks unpaid work experience in a garage to see what the job is really like. My problem is with companies that take on so-called “interns” as a matter of course, do not pay them, and use them to carry out work that really should be carried out by paid staff.

    This currently advertised unpaid role from a PR company is the sort of thing that really irritates me:

    …… looking for an enthusiastic and hardworking intern for their fashion despatch department to start immediately. Supporting an extremely busy team, this will be a placement for a minimum of three months, ideal for those looking to establish a career in fashion PR. Working primarily with luxury brands; you will gain valuable experience within the fashion PR industry.

    Responsibilities include:
    – Assist the PR team with day-to-day press activity
    – Scanning and compiling cuttings
    – Organizing sample send outs and booking in
    – Preparing press materials

    Required skills / attributes:
    – Ambitious and hardworking
    – Reliable and motivated
    – Ability to multitask and prioritize projects
    – Excellent verbal and written communications skills
    – A strong interest in the fashion PR industry

    What I want to know is why can’t they pay the person to do the work? “Organising press packs” seems to me a fancy way of saying that the person will spend time stuffing envelopes. It seems to me that this position should be for a paid entry level member of staff and, on the face of things, as I see it, subject to the minimum wage laws.

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