Unpaid Internships: The Exploitation of Young People

Written by Sanderson Recruitment | Blog | Posted 05/06/2013

It recently came to light that nine companies in the UK have been forced to pay almost £200,000 to the interns they employed, but refused to pay. This is believed to come as a result of the availability of a pay and work rights helpline, which allows employees to make anonymous complaints about the conditions of their pay. Such cases can then be investigated by HMRC to ensure that employers are paying at least the minimum wage to all employees who fulfil a set number of hours and duties. It is suggested that more than 100,000 young people are currently working without pay in the UK; a figure which I fear only skims the surface of the reality.

The issue of unpaid internships is not new. In fact, its illumination to the wider public has been a long time coming, which is why it is such a relief to see the topic being covered on the front pages of national newspapers. Internships should exist to provide young people with the opportunity to gain a real insight into the working world they wish to join. Completing an internship gives a young person invaluable, hands-on experience, which can prove to be hugely advantageous when applying for permanent job roles. It is common for placements to require an intern to commit to working 40 hours a week for up to 6 months at a time, if not longer. Bearing this in mind, it is quite clearly wrong to expect anyone to work under such conditions for no pay. In fact, it is pure exploitation of the young people who are only too eager to do whatever they can to get a foot on the rung of their chosen career ladder.

In addition to being unlawful and both morally and ethically wrong, realistically, internships have now become a viable option only to those who have the financial backing to support them. As placements often require full time commitment, the concept of interning has become almost entirely exclusive to those who come from wealthy backgrounds. Young people from lower socio-economic families are now fighting a losing battle against those who are in an inherently secure financial position, as well as a culture of nepotism surrounding internships, which contributes to the Zeitgeist of Ďitís not what you know,but who you knowĎ. Furthermore, an increasing number of junior roles are advertised stating that previous experience is essential, making the dream careers of many young people completely unattainable.

At RSG we value our interns as much as we value any other member of staff and this is reflected in the above minimum wage that we offer them. Unfortunately, it seems that too many companies consider a work experience placement an honour that young people should jump at with no expectation of pay. However, at RSG we see that an internship is beneficial for both parties; interns bring fresh insight, ideas and enthusiasm to the team and we never underestimate what they can contribute to the company. It is to be hoped that companies who choose not to pay their interns are exposed, so that internships can once again become an opportunity for all.

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