Student campaigners say working with unions will help hold companies to account as well as encourage more ethical, paid internships
The TUC and the National Union of Students have launched a new campaign calling for the fair treatment of interns.
The campaign will focus on graduates working for politicians, media companies and in the fashion industry, where the abuse of internship is known to be most widespread.
It begins a year of activity for fairer and better internships.
Unions believe many employers have sought to take advantage of graduates’ desperation to find work in the economic downturn and so see interns as a useful source of free labour. The TUC warns other employers may not be unaware that non-payment of interns is a breach of the law and of national minimum wage rules.
NUS vice president Dannie Grufferty (pictured) told UnionNews: “We realised that the traditional approach of interns going to trade unions over breaches in employment law wasn’t working. So we decided that we needed some kind of alliance, a broader national campaign to get the loopholes in employment law closed, to get individual student unions involved and to contact the universities and colleges advertising internships.
“We also realised that we can work with organisations such as Intern Aware and the National Union of Journalists to get case studies, and to encourage those people to go to the HMRC and demand their wages back from these employers for unpaid work they’ve carried out.”
The MP and former Labour Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has begun a survey of all MPs to find out if they employ unpaid interns. She is also launching an ethical internship scheme under which the government would offer to pay National Insurance contributions and other costs in return for companies paying at least the minimum wage.
The group Intern Aware – which is supported by Unite’s parliamentary branch – says providing decent payment for internships will allow a wider pool of people to apply for training places, such as at MPs offices in Westminster.
It accepts that might mean companies take fewer interns, however campaigners say the positive effect would be to make the internship more valuable: not just tea-making and photocopying.
Unions say media sectors such as journalism, advertising, film, television and public relations are becoming an exclusive domain for 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.
The TUC is also launching a ‘Rights for Interns’ Smartphone application. The app can be downloaded to Apple and Android phones free of charge from next month.
It features tools to help interns evaluate their own internship, or ones they are considering, as well as general guidance on work rights they are entitled to and minimum wage rates. Interns who think they should be paid can use the app to find out what they are owed.
Says Dannie Grufferty: “It’s both about holding some of these companies to account and enforcing the law, because unpaid internships are by their nature illegal.”
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