[Jennie Couling | Contributing Writer]
There are at least 22,000 people working as unpaid interns at any one time, according to Sutton Trust.
Working for free not only means missing a wage, but research from the Confederation of British Industry calculates the average cost of an unpaid internship as £926 a month in London and £804 in Manchester.
As internships can be the crucial difference between yours and someone else’s CV, many have argued that unpaid internships reward the rich and punish those who may be just as talented but lack the financial support needed.
Last week NUS teamed up with Intern Aware to create an unpaid internship hotline. The companies reported will be publicly named in the run up to the UK elections.
Both Intern Aware and NUS are campaigning for the government to legislate to make sure work experience that lasts longer than four weeks is paid at or above the minimum wage.
“Without my parents, I couldn’t have done it,” said Hertfordshire graduate Elizabeth Schuetz.
Schuetz worked as an unpaid intern for a restaurant PR company for three months and throughout her masters year. She received £200 expenses a month, most of which went on tube tickets alone.
“I’d have restaurant launches after a nine to six day and would be on the door until 10,” she said. “I met with clients. I was a proper member of staff. It was Devil Wears Prada…I was made to get coffee, buy underwear, deliver presents.”
Schuetz eventually left the company for a paid internship that lead to her getting a job with them. She said: “I can’t understand why a charity can pay me but luxury restaurant [PR] can’t.”
Kealie Mardell, final year Mass Communications student said: “I think it’s important to draw the distinction between volunteering and unpaid internships. Giving your time to a good cause can be extremely valuable, but commercial companies shouldn’t take advantage of young people and expect them to give their time without getting anything in return.
“So much emphasis is placed on the importance of work experience that companies think they can get away with exploiting people by promising ‘experience’. If it’s a demanding full time position, your time is worth more than the experience being offered.”
However, paid opportunities can be found. Final year English Language student Charlie Green had a paid internship with Santander.
“I applied for big companies around my home town of Milton Keynes as I wanted a summer internship. I used websites like Milkround and things to see what was available,” she said. “I really wanted a paid internship, I didn’t even consider non paid ones.”
When asked if she’d have done the same internship if it didn’t pay, Green said: “If I knew I was guaranteed a job after then yes probably. But it was a lot of work so for no money, I don’t think it would’ve been fair.”
If you did an internship and had set hours, specific duties and responsibilities and were doing a job that otherwise a paid member of staff would have to do, it is possible you qualified for the national minimum wage whether you agreed to work for free or not.
If you’re looking into internships, internaware.org is great resource for learning your rights and they also offer support to people who want to claim back pay they’re entitled to.
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