Parliament in crucial unpaid internships debate

 

Today, the House of Commons will hear the second reading of a bill to ban the advertisement of unpaid internships. This is a key milestone in the fight against exploitation of young people.

It seeks to reduce the number and visibility of unpaid internships, condemning the practice that asking young people to work for free is acceptable. Hurrah! Victory at last for the tens of thousands of graduates who are currently being forced to work for nothing.

Hold your horses.

The reality is that, regrettably, the resounding majority know nothing about this bill or its potential significance. To add further insult to injury, the bill will probably not be heard in Parliament on its scheduled date, and, even if it is, only a handful of MPs are likely to turn up to hear it and vote on its outcome.

The modern career conundrum

Today’s graduates are facing the toughest labour market in a generation. With an average 73 applicants for every one graduate role, the market is competitive and ultimately offers disappointing prospects for the majority of graduates out there.

A direct result of this saturated labour market is that employers are more stringent in their application process and graduates are forced to mark themselves out of the hordes of other applications they are competing against. It often boils down to experience that separates candidates.

Add in the classic modern career conundrum, needing experience to gain experience, and we arrive at the notion of the internship.

Experience at what cost?

Internships are undoubtedly a fantastic way of gaining work experience and making yourself more employable and desirable to employers. You’ve proven your interest in a given sector and have the experience to back it up. You’ve also proven that you’ve made the crucial transition from partying student to young professional.

However, internships have become synonymous with unpaid labour, a reality for many graduates that has become an endemic and self-deprecating graduate career cycle. Students need experience to gain experience and yet the more people take on internships, the more work experience becomes an integral expectation on a CV. And so the competition is exacerbated.

It’s a classic case of supply and demand. Employers need workers, and graduates are a useful source of free labour, willing to work with reduced rights and benefits in their desperation to gain experience to make their CV stand out. This needs to change.

When I graduated last year, I had no luck with the gruelling and demanding graduate scheme applications. I also didn’t really know which sector I wanted to go into. This is the case for many the modern graduate. I undertook two internships as a result, both of which were unpaid. Yes, they gave me that all important ‘work experience’ to make myself more employable to future employers and consequently I felt fortunate to be doing more than refining my barista skills. And yes, they taught me more about the sectors I was interested in.

But why should this experience have come at the expense of me being paid nothing for my contribution to the companies I worked at? I was lucky. I lived in London and had generous parents who were willing to put up with me not paying rent in order to gain these vital employable skills. But thousands out there are not as fortunate as I was. The current system is working against social mobility; for those who can’t afford to work for free, their career progression is immediately disadvantaged because of their financial position.

Some employers and companies are ahead of the game. Instant Impact, the internship recruitment agency, places students and graduates exclusively with SMEs in a variety of sectors. Crucially, all roles are paid. So despite their smaller size, smaller budget and the fact that we are all in a recession, if SMEs can do it, why can’t the big dogs catch on?

What so many young people don’t know is that not paying interns is actually illegal. Under current legislation the law effectively states that interns must be paid. Current law is clear on the difference between a ‘worker’ and a ‘volunteer’. Yet, through a loose, unregulated and semantic interpretation of the law, employers can get away with employing free labour and the HMRC has so far failed to enforce national minimum wage. It is an untenable situation.

Now is the time for change

If passed, the Internships Bill will give the Government the power to prosecute companies who advertise illegal unpaid internships. Furthermore, it will raise awareness of the issue and hopefully go some way in tackling this rapidly escalating cultural and fiscal problem.

This is my plea, to government, business and students and graduates; we need youth leaders to get behind this Internships Bill and raise awareness and publicity surrounding it. By doing so, we have the power to change the employability prospects of a generation.

To the government

The process can start with black and white legislation that will end employer exploitation of a loose loophole in current government legislation. MPs: Turn up and vote and ensure that interns have employee rights and are not just subject to employers who abuse vague legislation. Unpaid internships need to become the exception and not the norm if we are to protect and nourish the employability prospects of a future generation of business people.

To company bosses

Employers need to change their attitude to unpaid work. Recession and a ready supply of cheap labour is not an excuse. Businesses should shoulder the cost of their labour and not expect the intern to make crippling financial sacrifices in exchange for necessary experiences. If an employee is taking on responsibility in a business then they should be rewarded for their time. The law is clear on this.

And finally, to the interns

(Yes, this is your responsibility as well). By taking unpaid work, you are saying to your employer that you don’t deserve to be paid for the work you do and perpetuating a culture that needs to change. Don’t underestimate the work you are doing or what you have to offer to a company. You are right to demand what is legally entitled to you.

This culture of exploitation must end. Now is the time for change.

Sabina Usher is a University of York graduate. She works at Instant Impact, the graduate internship recruitment agency that offers internships and graduate positions with SMEs. All positions are paid.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
News
people
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
News
people... and stop them from attacking people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?