Unpaid Internships: Are they Fair?

The following details were extracted from a Graduate Recruiter magazine article: “Unpaid, Unfair, Unwise” by Danielle Grufferty.

Unpaid internships are increasing and an NUS YouGov poll (Nov 2012) found that unpaid internships are widely seen as an important route into the key professions including media, fashion, finance and politics.

The current cost for a university student is many tens of thousands. This means students are paying for their education before being asked to work for free, but only if they can afford to do so. Confused? Please can somebody illuminate some reason here, any justification? Are we not missing the very purpose of labour laws? Is the fundamental principle not to protect employees?

Our economy is floundering. So when an employer says they will ‘let’ young people work for free on the vague promise of paying jobs later, they will find desperate people to do it. But just because people are willing to do it, can we really just let the market take over and let it happen?

Alan Milburn’s report as the Government’s Social Mobility Tsar on Access to Professional Careers argues ”unpaid internships clearly disadvantage those from less affluent backgrounds who cannot afford to work for free for any length of time” he goes on to say [internships] ”should be subject to similar rules to other parts of the labour market. That means introducing proper, transparent, and a fair process for selection and reasonable terms for employment including renumeration for internships’.

The TUC launched their smartphone app, which allows individuals to work out whether their internship is legal or not, and whether it is of a decent quality – and even provides a calculator by which those who have undertaken unpaid internships can determine how much they should have been paid, and contact HMRC to raise this violation of minimum wage legislation!

TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady says ‘Whether they are unscrupulous or genuinely unaware of the rules, too many employers are ripping off young people by employing them in unpaid internships that are not only unfair but, in most cases, probably illegal…… it is vital that we crackdown on those internships that offer little but hard graft for no reward. Employers need to know there is no such thing as free labour.”