TUC fears as many as one in three interns are being exploited at work

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date: 25 March 2010

embargo: 00.01hrs Friday 26 March 2010

Amidst fears that one in three interns is being exploited through unpaid work, the TUC is launching a new website today (Friday) aimed at helping these young people find out more about their rights at work.

The TUC website www.rightsforinterns.org.uk is part of the TUC's Next Generation campaign which aims to secure a better deal for young people at work. It explains what rights interns should expect, allows them to share their experiences and explains the benefits of joining a union.

The number and range of internships in the UK has increased considerably in recent years - particularly in the recession - and interns are now a regular feature in many industries, says the TUC.

The TUC is concerned that as many as one in three of these interns is not being paid for their work, despite qualifying for the minimum wage.

Good internships are attractive to young people looking to get on in a competitive jobs market, the TUC believes. More than 40 per cent of graduates interviewed by the National Council for Work Experience believed that employers viewed the right work experience as a more valuable asset than qualifications.

However, many employers have sought to take advantage of graduates' desperation to find work in the economic downturn and see interns as a useful source of free labour, warns the TUC. Others may be unaware that non-payment of interns is a breach of the law and of national minimum wage rules.

The National Union of Journalists found that almost 80 per cent of members undertaking work experience and who had their work published had received no fee, the broadcast union BECTU claims that unpaid work in film and TV is rife, and a third of the 6,000 internships advertised by employers on the Government's Graduate Talent Pool website are currently unpaid.

Any intern who is undertaking work-related tasks, with set hours and a duty to turn up and do the work is probably defined in law as a 'worker' and, as such, is eligible for the minimum wage, working time and paid holiday rights.. The TUC believes any internship that does not simply involve observation and work shadowing should qualify for payment. Interns employed as voluntary workers working in the charity sector may be exempt from the national minimum wage, however.

As the use of internships becomes more widespread, the TUC is concerned that jobs in popular career destinations like journalism, advertising, film, television and public relations are becoming an exclusive domain for middle class people from affluent backgrounds. Only those young people whose parents have the means to support them - often for months on end - can afford to work for free.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Whether they are unscrupulous or genuinely unaware of the rules, too many employers are ripping off talented young people by employing them in unpaid internships that are not only unfair but, in most cases, probably illegal.

'Internships can be a positive experience and offer a kick-start to a career that many young people value. But as more and more graduates are being forced to turn to internships in place of traditional entry level jobs, we're concerned that a growing number of interns are at risk of real exploitation.

'It is vital that we crack down on those internships that offer little but hard graft for no reward. Employers need to know that there's no such thing as free labour.'

Co-founder of Interns Anonymous Alex Try said: 'Every day we are contacted by interns and ex-interns who have been treated terribly in the workplace. It's high time interns knew their rights, so we wholeheartedly welcome this TUC initiative.

'There are serious problems in the graduate job market. Entry level jobs are drying up and being replaced by unpaid internships. Increasingly only those who can afford to work for free are able to get ahead. There is something very wrong with this.'

The TUC supports the Government's Backing Young Britain initiative, welcoming the action taken to address the crisis in youth unemployment, but would like to see the Government do more to raise awareness of the minimum wage rules on internships and to make enforcement of the minimum wage a priority. The TUC believes that the Government can lead the way by ensuring that every internship advertised through the Graduate Talent Pool is in compliance with minimum wage law.

The TUC is also keen to see employers' organisations and professional associations do more to ensure their members are promoting the highest quality experience for interns, including paid work.

Speaking in Birmingham at the TUC's Young Members Conference today, TUC Youth Policy Officer Matt Dykes said: 'We need a change in the culture of internships. There must be zero tolerance of the kind of exploitation we are seeing all too often.

'We are reaching out to interns to let them know they have rights at work. Employers' organisations need to do the same to raise awareness with their members, and the Government needs to make sure these rights are properly enforced.'


Publishing is a thankless business, or so my experience tells me. I am writing because today I had to go to a book distributor and pick up 42 books and carry them to our office. The distributor and our office are two miles, and 40 minutes, apart - and I carried the books in a giant rucksack. Forty two books are pretty heavy so when I dragged them into the office, covered in sweat the least I expected was a thank you. I got concerned and shocked looks from my fellow 'unpaids', but nothing from my boss. I saw the email my boss sent to the guy I was picking the books up from. He said 'I'll send someone over'. That's the mentality of the internship-slave-driver. I'm only the intern - but I'm here, and working unpaid, because I want to learn and get experience. This didn't teach my anything, its abuse, and I take it because I am willing and desperate to get a job in publishing.

Doing an internship after university is a lottery. There is no guarantee that it will lead to a job, and little chance of income if you don't work on evenings and weekends or have family to support you. I've spent the last six months doing two internships, one for a charity and one for an MP and I've really enjoyed both of them. They have boosted my confidence, given me the chance to meet lots of interesting people and I have genuinely learnt a lot. For my MP I worked from 9.30 or 10am till 7pm. Then I would take the tube around London to any one of innumerable pub quizzes I host each night to make ends meet. I would often be home after midnight. This isn't to make a stockbroker's wage - this is just to scrape by. There needs to be a redefinition of the status of the intern. The state needs to recognise that we are doing a useful activity which will, if all goes to plan, lead to a job, but that we are not getting paid. Interns cannot claim the dole unless they have been unemployed for six months. This is ridiculous, an internship is concrete evidence of a desire to be employed. It is active job seeking. I don't regret making the effort to move to London and work long hours. But I worked at least 42 hours a week for no money - something's not right with that sentence.

I've been working as an 'intern', (or if you prefer, substitute the usual 'unpaid, unappreciated, exploited office worker without whom the entire company would implode') in a business organisation for the past three months. Technically, I should be getting some specific experience and in fairness I have been. The trouble is all the other stuff I've been asked to do. Like organise and book my boss' holiday, book restaurants for his friends, find tickets for shows, go to the supermarket, squeeze fruit into juice for five hours for a cocktail party and so on. My boss once made me go to the cash machine, and the most recent outrage was to ask me to track down a certain kind of foodstuff as a gift for some friends. This saga has started to haunt my waking and sleeping. I'm so stressed about it that I'm almost weeping in frustration. This is compounded by being sent texts about work at 9pm on a Sunday evening. I have a master's from Durham and this is what I'm reduced to. Like an idiot, or a masochist, I take it, partly because I've been brought up to be helpful and partly because I'm so desperate for a job now that I'd probably morris dance naked on the House of Common's roof if it meant someone would offer me one. I'm terrified that any refusal will lead to a terrible reference, so my boss can dangle the prospect of a permanent position at the end of this stint (which, incidentally, has no official end date, so I could be working for free forever or until I find another job), ensuring that I never refuse to do anything, no matter how absurd or mundane. In the meantime I am effectively paying, since I have to pay for my own travel expenses, to have my dignity and self-respect peeled away.

For more case studies please visit www.internsanonymous.co.uk


- The TUC's new website for interns is www.rightsforinterns.org.uk

- The National Council for Work Experience survey was the NCWU Work Experience Survey May 2003.

- The National Union of Journalists survey was the NUJ Work Experience Survey 2008.

- The TUC Young Members Conference is from 7pm today (Friday) until 1pm on Sunday 28 March, at the Jurys Inn Hotel, 245 Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2HQ. For further information please contact Matt Dykes on 020 7467 1286 or email mdykes@tuc.org.uk

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet


Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: media@tuc.org.uk
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Brenchley T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: ebrenchley@tuc.org.uk

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