Internship Bill Fails

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.


5 thoughts on “Internship Bill Fails

  1. Thank goodness for schemes such as the paid internships and social enterprise support offered by University of Lincoln. We’ll always try and negotiate a fee and expenses as part of any so-called ‘opportunity’ (free labour – exploitation of creative talent) that is offered to our students, but sometimes a pragmatic approach is necessary – ie take on a few low-to-no paid projects while still an undergrad if you possibly can (and while access to the kit is at least free), use the results mercilessly to enhance your CV/showreel, portfolio and insist on references, and use those to get paid work as soon as possible after that. We’ll always do our best to suport an interesting project, but it’s the assumption that our students (their talent), our kit and our staff time to manage these projects all come for free that can be difficult to stomach. Sorry to say that some of the worst ‘offenders’ are close to home and should know better!

  2. I agree that it is completely unlawful to work for free. I worked free of charge on an internship when i first graduated for a company in London. It was a struggle working for nothing for 6 months, although they paid my travel expenses I was working long hours and unable to do anything else out of work as i had no money.
    However, if i hadn’t had the opportunity to do this, the company wouldn’t have taken me on at all, as they couldn’t afford any new staff.
    I wouldn’t be where I am no without the help of that internship. On the one hand it is narrowing the opportunities of people who are unable to work for free – but then if many companies can’t afford to take paid people on then this is also going to narrow the opportunities available to everyone, whether they can afford to work for free or not.

    Either way it seems to be a no win situation!

  3. I contend that trying to legislate against unpaid internships is bad politics and bad for potentially breaking into an ever more competitive market place. While on the surface, Blears’ attempts may seem a worthy attempt to level the social playing field, it lacks the practicalities of allowing a future media employee to display your dedication and abilities.

    I graduated ULH in 2002, but before that I’d completed a BTeC National Diploma in Media at Boston College, during which I managed to get a week of work experience on the Vanessa show at Anglia Television in Norwich. Likewise, while at Lincoln I spent a day with a local Calendar reporter. This illustrates that you can find opportunities outside of London.

    With that said, it is true that a majority of media production is based out of the capital. After becoming a little disillusioned with the Media BA after the first semester because of the lack of practical work, I hit the phones and managed to get a couple of weeks work experience at a London television company. I’d spent the previous summer working both at Matalan in the evenings and weekend, and packed cabbages in a local produce factory during the days. The money I earned (plus some Christmas cash) funded the London accommodation in a low rent boarding house, and while I wasn’t being paid for the internship, the experience paid off.

    When, during the summer between my second and third year at Lincoln, I’d put in more calls and the same London company where I’d done work experience offered me some paid work on a Discovery Channel series. After graduation, I would have a chance to return there and be blessed enough to be in television work for much of the past decade.

    While it is true that there are a few unscrupulous media employers out there – and the French idea of limiting the duration of unpaid work experience is great one – legislating against internships would actually limit entrance to the creative industry. Whether regionally (especially with the Beeb moving some production to Salford) or in London, unpaid work experience is a vital way to express to a potential employer a candidate’s initiative, hard work and gain vital networking connections that could lead to a paid career.

  4. One thing that I never got and get about free work, especially nowerdays. Is that the company that is employing you to be an intern earns money from what they do. They earn money by having people work for them to create these ideas and creative notions, etc. This then in any business model then creates more clients, more revenue.
    They call this business show business…. Yes the media and film industry is a business.
    If your looking for paid work, apply to be a runner, don’t get sucked into the free culture, think yourself as a business and then go from there.

    If anyone needs any info or help I’m always willing to help, email me at:

  5. We know that we struggle in the UK to get paid properly for media and creative work, it is somehow seen as froth on the top of everyone’s coffee! Unpaid internships and work experience opportunities compound this trend. Yes, employers are offering a valuable training environment and a way of boosting CV’s but those do not pay the bills or put food on the table. A legal limit on the duration of an internship is necessary. And to those who say employers would withdraw because of the lack of continuity that this would cause, we need to examine their need for constant workflows from unpaid interns – that’s what I would define as a job!

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