Don’t have enough money to pay staff? Why not get an intern in to do the work for free? These words are probably spoken more times in meetings than anyone would expect. It is a sad fact of today’s job market that there is a surplus of people with the right qualifications for most jobs and many of these people will have the willing and necessary means to take an unpaid position in the hopes of this being their foot in the door to a full time, fully paid job. Some people say fair enough, if people will do it for free, why stop them, why deny them the opportunity? But what about those who simply cannot afford to have any kind of period where they are not paid, let alone having to fork out travel expenses as well. If you’re a single parent living on your own, the inability for you to be able to work for free for a couple of months could be the difference between you getting the job, and the person who has all their bills paid for them getting it, regardless of who has more talent.
The BBC recently reported that a lot of unpaid internships were breaking minimum wage law, the government has pretty clear guidelines on what can take place during an unpaid internship, but I am still surprised at the number of adverts I see that completely flout this legislation. One of the problems seems to be that the emphasis is on the intern to claim for minimum wage where they are entitled to it rather than on the government to enforce the law. And in the real world there is no way someone who is trying to get a break into an industry is going to go around claiming that they are owed minimum wage.
Don ‘t get me wrong I am not completely against internships in any shape or form, in fact my organisation is offering internship placements for the first time this week. But the key difference between a “good” internship and a “bad” one has got to be expectations, both the employer’s and the intern’s. Short internships of say one or two weeks which offer the opportunity to observe and experience what a workplace is all about can only be a good thing. However, if an intern is expected to work unpaid for a company for several months on a vague assurance that there could be a job at the end of it for them then this is an unacceptable method of recruitment, not to mention an illegal and exploitative practice. I have no idea what the answer to this problem is, but it is definately something that has been under the radar for too long and even if we can’t stop it from happening we can at least raise awareness of the issues involved and hopefully prevent any organisations from unitentionally exploiting their interns.
New Professional Support Officer (Scottish Division)