Labour to limit unpaid internships

Labour has announced plans to ban unpaid internships, meaning interns employed for longer than four weeks will be paid at least the minimum wage, should Labour come to power in May. Intern Aware – set up by students who felt “locked out” of competitive industries – are campaigning for businesses to pay their staff, citing that working for free for three months (the average length of an internship) could set an intern back over £3000, making internships impossible for many young people, and excluding them from opportunities within the industry they wish to work.

Job precarity, associated with freelance and unpaid work, suggests the “flexible exploitation” of workers from illegal or temporary work, and can result in job instability, long hours and unpredictable working patterns. Under employment law, people who contribute value to an organization and work set hours must be paid, differentiating them from volunteers. However, many employers simply bend the rules, exploiting graduates desperate for employment.

In fact, many graduates are now being told that in order to get their foot in the door, they must first work for free, putting graduates from lower income families at an immediate disadvantage when entering the job market. The effect of this is that the work force becomes increasingly middle class at a time when background should no longer be an influential factor – completely eradicating social mobility. For many seeking employment, internships make competitive industries such as media and politics completely inaccessible. Furthermore, the majority of unpaid internships available are in London, where the cost of living simply isn’t affordable.

According to Intern Aware, in 2011 over a third of graduates found employment by interning within the company first, meaning an increase of the work force is now willing to work for free. Earlier this year, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission called for legislation to ban all unpaid internships, arguing this change in the workforce reinforces the idea of an “elitist Britain”.

Interns are often faced with uncertainty to their working days and hours, and both paid jobs and internships are becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of.

Increasing pay to the minimum wage, or the national living wage, could result in more opportunities for young people and graduates. Many organizations have already chosen to do this. The Rank Foundation, a philanthropic organization, and environmental NGO WWF both pay their interns the national living wage. Goldsmiths University, University of the Arts London and Falmouth University have all banned the advertisement of unpaid work on their careers pages. Those who pay their interns also get applications from far more varied backgrounds.

As the first generation who will earn less than the generation before them, today’s graduates need support. Labour are fighting against unpaid internships to prevent those from the wealthiest families exclusively competing for the best opportunities, in an attempt to make the graduate market a more even playing field.

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