Making Things Fair Again: The Banning of Unpaid Internships

By Danny Angove

Unpaid internships are great, aren’t they? What’s not to love? They’re a fantastic way to be initiated into a tricky industry, introduced to useful contacts, and gain lots of valuable experience in a field you want to work in. The unpaid internship scheme is virtually flawless if you can afford to live for a year without having to pay for a place to sleep in London. It’s the perfect opportunity for the hopeful graduate if they’re able to survive twelve months without eating, drinking or using electricity.

I suppose things could be worse. After all, unpaid work shifts are illegal. As it stands, businesses don’t have to pay their interns if the intern isn’t made to work set hours, or if the work being performed by the intern wouldn’t normally be performed by a paid member of staff. In short, unpaid internships are a legal grey area. There’s no fixed legislation surrounding unpaid internships, and nobody’s really sure where to draw the line between a paid worker and an unpaid intern.

A few weeks ago, the government had a chance to finally put an end to unpaid internships. A draft bill put forward by Conservative MP, Alec Shelbrooke, was debated in Parliament. This bill would’ve ensured that anyone working as an intern would be paid the minimum wage. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it got. MPs discussed Shelbrooke’s propositions for four hours before voting against them and blocking the legislation.

On the surface, this seems like bad news for young people. Still, the government’s verdict makes sense, doesn’t it? As Business Minister, Margot James argued the proposals might ‘undermine existing employment laws’ and could even put financial pressure on firms. When you think of it like that, the government’s decision holds water. Can you imagine the strain that would come from businesses actually having to give interns some basic employment rights? Can you imagine the uproar in the office when the bosses find out that they –dare I say it– actually have to pay the people that are working for them?

This country’s normalisation of unpaid internships isn’t right, and something needs to be done about it. If you’re spending a year working for a company –any company– then you deserve to be paid for the work you’re doing. It’s as simple as that.

As a working-class guy from Plymouth, I think I can safely say that I won’t be able to afford to do an unpaid internship anytime soon. Does this mean that I’m less worthy of a career in the media than somebody who can afford to? Of course not. Does it mean that I shouldn’t have the same opportunities as somebody who happens to live in London, or somebody whose parents have more money than mine? No, it doesn’t.

What it does mean is that my post-graduate options are more limited than those of somebody who can afford to live for a year without earning any money from their day job. I don’t think that’s fair, and you shouldn’t either.


This article was published in our November 2016 issue.

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