A wage for all workers

Though I understand what motivates skilled graduates to take unpaid work, and that NGOs, the public sector, private companies (and pretty much everyone these days) take on interns to produce results within tight budgets, I believe that if these employers genuinely can’t afford to pay all of their workers they should face up to their fate and either downsize or go under! If not, they should be paying workers according to the law at national minimum wage.

The internship system that has developed in the UK amounts to a shameful situation of economic exclusion or those who can’t afford to work for free, as well as the violation of hard-won workers’ rights. I hold a slim hope that this unfair status-quo will be remedied by an economic climate of recession in which even richer graduates can no longer afford to work for free.

There are a number of principled organisations operating in London that pay interns at least minimum wage, including the Institute for Public Policy Research and International Alert, that deserve to be commended. But there are also ever-increasing numbers of public, private and third sector employers who continue to exploit unpaid labour simply because they can in a highly competitive job market. This is simply unethical, and even more so in the case of the public and private sectors that could easily manage budgets such that all workers are paid a wage, but they simply don’t because they don’t have to.

The government seems to be turning an astonishingly blind eye to the corrosion of hard-won labour rights that all graduates, at undergraduate and postgraduate level, now face. It is up to government to address this and ensure internship arrangements are formalised and incorporated into labour law to protect people’s rights. Just because a graduate may have managed to find their way financially through a degree or two, this does not mean that their right to remuneration is less important than that of workers occupying any other position in the economy.

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