From 2010: Private Eye on Internships

One of the most malign business practices to have emerged over recent years is the replacement of proper, paid work by internships. Many of the major companies now exploit the unpaid work of young hopefuls desperate for their a step on the ladder to a real job. Five years ago Private Eye published this article criticising it in their edition for the 10th – 23rd December 2010. Not only does it describe the abuses of the internship system itself, it also makes a case that it is actually illegal. The article runs:

Minimum Wage
Internshits…

As youth unemployment hits a record 1m and school leavers and graduates are desperate to find work, UK employers are only too happy to help so long as they work for nothing.

In recent months, some of corporate Britain’s biggest names, including Tesco, Volkswagen, Morrisons and Harrods, have adopted David Cameron’s Big Society approach to voluntary work and advertised unpaid internships.

Most involve clerical work dressed up as “exciting opportunities” for the inexperienced. Tasks include making the tea, filing, entering data, picking up the boss’s lunch and in some cases, as documented by the site Interns Anonymous, scrubbing toilets and sweeping floors. Clothing chain Urban Outfitters expects its interns to work for nine months or not bother applying. In the search for “efficiency savings”, even the Home Office and NHS are now getting in on the act while cutting back on paid staff.

However, the scam may soon be stymied because it appears that under national minimum wage legislation most of this labour exploitation could be illegal. As one employment lawyer says: “The law is far from watertight on this, but its follows the same principle as the duck rule. If it looks like work, and feels like work, it is work, not volunteering or training. And these interns should be paid [the] minimum wage.”

After a successful legal action by a member of the broadcasting and film union BECTU, the National Union of Journalists has taken up the cause too. In October it launched a campaign to help interns claim thousands of pounds in back pay from publishers. Its lawyers are reviewing nine cases they hope to use to test the minimum wage law.

Not surprisingly, the mainstream press has been quiet on the matter. As one editor on the Guardian put it: “We’re in a slightly tricky situation here in that my understanding is that we don’t pay them either.”

Insiders at the New Statesman confirm that although editor Jason Cowley earns a handsome six-figure salary, around a third of his staff are unpaid interns. A review of their jobs board confirms that their soon–to-be launched sister mag, Charity Insight, plans to staff itself from a rolling stock of unpaid interns with no guaranteed job at the end.

After hearing of the NUJ campaign, Girish Gupta, a former intern at the Independent, decided to claim back what he believed to be fair wages for stories the paper had published. In a rather curt email, deputy editor Adam Leigh concluded that Gupta’s request was “particularly idiotic”. After Gupta referred his case to the Department for Business work and pay helpline, another email, this time from the Independent’s legal department, mused that if Gupta should win “the fall out in the heart of the economy would be enormous, not least in the heart of government where unpaid internships are part of the structure”.

So there it is from the Indie’s legal department: a massive part of the economy and the structure of government is based on the exploitation of the unpaid labour of the aspiring unemployed workers. They’re being exploited and betrayed, not just by government and ordinary employers, but also by the very left-wing press, who should be defending them against it. And all so that the people at the very top can claim their vastly inflated salaries.

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One Response to “From 2010: Private Eye on Internships”

  1. rainbowwarriorlizzie Says:

    Reblogged this on HUMAN RIGHTS & THE SIEGE OF BRITAIN POLITICAL JOURNAL.

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