Hazel Blears’ Internship Bill failed to be get a second reading in parliament last week. Sabina Usher writes in the Independent “It was (an) important step in the campaign to stop unpaid internships and demonstrate that asking young people to work for free is unacceptable, and not to mention potentially illegal under national minimum wage law. While it wouldn’t have totally eradicated the practice, the Bill would have reduced these internships’ number and visibility and begun the process of necessary cultural change.”
Is this good or bad news for media production graduates? What do you think?
Extracts from the Bill:
More than 1 million young people in our country are desperately looking for work, seeking that elusive first step on the career ladder that they hope will lead to a better future. In the current economic climate, it is all too easy for unscrupulous employers to exploit the hopes and dreams of young people by offering long-term, unpaid internships that require them to work for free.
The worst offenders are employers in media, fashion, finance and, until recently—I am ashamed to say—in politics. Part of the reason why unpaid internships are so unfair is that they are disproportionately located in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. That immediately freezes out large sections of the country, and I know that very few people from Salford could afford to relocate to London to work full time without getting paid.
“Unpaid internships clearly disadvantage those from less affluent backgrounds who cannot afford to work for free for any length of time. They are a barrier to fair access and indeed, to better social mobility”.
The Bill proposes that advertising for unpaid internships should be unlawful. It seems like a small measure, but I believe that it would make a big difference. If people are required to attend work for set hours and carry out specific duties, they are legally a worker under the national minimum wage legislation and entitled to be paid as such. This is the clear legal advice of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ own lawyers. It is therefore completely nonsensical that it remains lawful for employers to advertise positions which are in themselves unlawful. The Bill would send a very clear message to employers that such adverts are unlawful, and it would accelerate the cultural change we need so that all employers adopt the standards of the best by paying their interns at least the national minimum wage.
In France, work experience is limited to eight weeks, after which there is a trigger whereby a person automatically becomes an intern and is paid accordingly. It would be very helpful if we could consider a similar model in this country.
Concern has been expressed that making internships paid would drive unpaid internships underground or, worse still, stifle opportunities. However, we have to ask ourselves this: are we comfortable with opportunities that mean that people do not get paid for their work, and that are restricted to those who can afford to work for free? I personally am not. I believe that unpaid internships are often exploitative, and are wrong. By outlawing the advertising of unpaid internships, the Government would send a clear message that unpaid internships shut down more opportunities for people than they open up, that the practice is counter-productive to social mobility, and that the principle of asking people to live and work for free is wrong.