Archive for October, 2010

Graduate Fog strikes again- Dept of Business says interns not worth public money

In our coming-up-to-two years in this internsanonymous game many things have changed, Alex has a job and Rosy a research proposal, Gordon Brown is no longer Prime Minister and the delights of 3D cinema are ubiquitous. One thing, however, hasn’t changed- we still get contacted by interns who clearly should be getting paid and want to know if we can do anything to help them. They send emails to the HMRC, they call the national minimum wage helpline and, invariably, they don’t receive any help or any back up in their search for a wage that they are legally entitled to.

So this article over at Graduate Fog is depressing  but not altogether surprising. Tanya de Grunwald talked to a representative of the Department of Business. This is what they said regarding the exploitation of interns:

- Implied that prosecuting exploitative employers was too expensive and not “appropriate”, as most broke the law by accident.

- Dismissed concerns that the current NMW enforcement system fails to protect vulnerable interns.

- Disputed recent statistics showing the scale of the unpaid internships problem

- Claimed that the current penalties for those who break the law are an adequate deterrent to others who might be tempted to exploit interns.

- Suggested that a large number of interns are not entitled to the NMW – and that could partially explain why so few cases are brought against employers.

- Urged interns to take greater responsibility for the nature of the placement they sign up to.

- Showed no understanding of the complex reasons why reporting their unpaid placement is unappealing to most interns trying to impress their employer – and that this is not just about confidentiality.

To read the full article and give your opinion just click here.

Limbo limbo limbo!

An intern correspondent brought our attention to this fabulous cartoon from Dilbert…

Did you intern in the Department of State, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport?

New Liverpool MP Luciana Berger has been sniffing around Parliament, asking about unpaid interns. This is what she asked and the responses she got:

The Leader of the House, Sir George Young was asked:

if he will bring forward proposals to establish a fund for payment of interns working for hon. Members.

He responded:

The Government have no current plans to do so.

Fairly clear.

Berger then directed a question to the department of Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport:

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport how many unpaid, expenses-only internships there have been in (a) his Department and (b) public bodies which fall within his Department’s area of responsibility in the last 12 months.

John Penrose (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport; Weston-Super-Mare, Conservative) replied:

There has been one unpaid internship in DCMS in the last 12 months.

If that unpaid intern happens to be reading this blog please get in touch! We would love to know what it’s like to intern in a government department!

Money for nothing?

If we are going to ask students to pay tens of thousands of pounds for a degree then we need to have a proper debate about whether that degree is actually worth the investment. I loved my degree but was it worth £18,000?

On leaving Uni and spending my first year after graduating being rejected from every job I applied for – I realised that 3 years of study had in no way prepared me for the world of work. I had nothing that employers wanted in a potential recruit.

Graduates see unpaid internships as the only avenue into paid work and increasingly, employers see unpaid internships as the solution to staffing problems. If you can’t get a decent job with your degree how exactly can it pay itself back?

Clearly, a degree does not guarantee a high salary and success – I am sure many of your friends are testament to this. But then, back in the day going to university wasn’t a cold-hard economic decision.

Until we address the problem of graduate unemployment and the uncertainty in the job market, we cannot expect prospective students to saddle themselves with debts the size of mortgages.

When the metropolitan police force wants wannabee officers to work for free for 12 months before applying to entry level positions; when large numbers of graduate schemes have been axed; when a third of call centre workers are now graduates, you’ve got to wonder how reasonable it is to ratchet up fees for university students without even discussing how to make university a better investment.

For many graduate schemes a degree is a pre-requisite – but bar a piece of paper saying ‘2-1’ or ‘first’ how else has a degree prepared you for writing job applications?

Unpaid internships are already the preserve of those who can afford to work for free, live in London or have the right connections. Soon university won’t be that much different.

NUJ urges unpaid editorial interns to sue for back-pay

“The National Union of Journalists is urging those who have taken up unpaid editorial internships to get in touch and claim back unpaid wages”, as reported in Press Gazette.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said:

 A campaign drawing together trade unions and other organisations opposed to this cheap labour merry-go-round is now essential and we will play our part in the campaign to bring exploitative employers to book, using minimum wage legislation and other legal means, to steadily change internship culture from one of exploitation to one of genuine learning opportunities.

The union advises that former interns can claim up to six years after the event through the county courts. But it states that minimum wage rules do not apply to students on work experience placements – which are typically limited to one or two weeks.

So what are we all waiting for?!

Interns Beware

We got this letter in the mail…

There is an organisation called The Work Foundation whose ‘mission’ is to promote ‘good work for all’. One of The Work Foundation’s aims is ‘to improve the quality of working life’ but, unfortunately, they do not apply their own principles to their own organisation. The Work Foundation advertised a vacancy this September looking for ‘exceptional interns’ to work for them for three months at minimum wage; so ‘exceptional’ they stipulated that all candidates should have a research based Masters Degree in economics or in a field related to employment. The Work Foundation is taking advantage of present extraordinarily high graduate unemployment, to recruit over-qualified researchers to do work that their full time paid staff were doing, for minimum wage. Such ‘exceptional’ interns would have spent thousands of pounds on their Masters Degrees, all for the promise of minimum wage for three months. It is not ‘good work for all’, it is an example of outrageous hypocrisy and, what is worse, it is exploitation.

However, it is legal exploitation. Because they are paying minimum wage to their interns to do work that their staff would be paid a salary to do, they are not doing anything illegal. The most infuriating thing of all is that The Work Foundation is better than most intern exploiting organisations; at least they offer minimum wage.

The worst perpetrators of graduate exploitation are the policy makers, the politicians. Look on and you will see dozens of vacancies for unpaid internships advertised by politicians, all hungry to take advantage of the unemployment many protest so passionately about. Pick any such advert from a politician and I would bet a Parliamentary intern’s annual salary that politician will have at some point publically complained about income equality or social mobility or the poverty of aspiration or that most politicians are from middle class background and are not reflective of society. Those politicians are bigger hypocrites than The Work Foundation.  Ask yourself which section of society can most afford to work unpaid in London for up to six months, to be able gain sufficient experience to begin a career in politics? I can assure you it is not the poor.

A bunch of hypocrites?

Which is why I was encouraged that all the male Labour leadership candidates signed up to the ‘Intern Aware’ statement, declaring ‘I pledge that if I am elected leader of the Labour Party I will campaign for Labour’s Minimum Wage Act to be fully enforced so that employers must pay their interns what they are due.’ However I spoke to a graduate seeking a career in politics who is not an enthusiast of the ‘Interns Aware’ campaign. She worked on a Labour candidate’s leadership campaign and she told me that because the candidate “signed the ‘Interns Aware’ statement, I am classed as a ‘volunteer’ and not an intern – so now I can’t even claim travel and lunch expenses!” Belatedly the ‘volunteer’ was eventually offered expenses as the leadership race ended. Nevertheless I cannot help but think that Labour candidates signing up to ‘Intern Aware’ pledge and then changing the status of their ‘Interns’ to ‘Volunteers’, was hardly in the spirit of the pledge. However, it does very much fit into the spirit of hypocrisy that plagues politicians; the phrase ‘put your money where your mouth is’ remains to ring true.

Architecture bites

We received this account of the difficulties one (and many) architecture graduates are facing. 

In architecture, some practices will only take you on if you work for free. Others pay very little and insist on very long hours, which works out as less than the minimum wage.

This has repercussions for the whole industry and social mobility. The only people who can live in London and work for free for months out of uni are those who have rich parents. 

It also de-values everyone else who works in the industry. You can’t get a job unless you waive your European working hours rights. Saying that you are willing to work over the maximum for no extra pay. If you don’t agree, you don’t get a job, it’s simple. If you agree, you work weekends, evenings and nights sometimes till 3 in the morning, back in at 9 the next day, no thanks, no bonuses, no extra cash, no time off in lieu. If you ask for these things, you are seen as a woos who cant take the pace, you are belittled in the workplace, or given a bad reputation by your employers.

This is bad practice that has to stop- it comes from the cult of the internship, as big firms who have many unpaid staff can bid for contracts asking for a lower fee. The developers now expect such low fees that the whole industry is pressured by it.

We look down on overseas sweatshop labour but we need to have a close look on our doorstep.

I had to leave the industry because I refuse to be exploited. I was very good at what I did, with great grades. I do not think that the debt I am in as a result of studying is worth it at all.

I wonder whether Le Corbusier paid his assistants?

Interns Anonymous

We want this website to be a forum for interns to share their experiences and discuss the ethics of unpaid employment. Most importantly, we want this site to be a place where YOU can tell us your story.


Interns Anonymous accept no responsibility for the contents of the blog, comments or any other content on this site that is posted or provided by third parties. This website is designed to act as a forum for interns to share experiences and opinions about their work, therefore, we will not censor opinions we do not agree with. The opinions stated in blog contributions do not represent those of Interns Anonymous. We disclaim all liability for such content to the fullest extent permitted by law. If you have any queries please email us.

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