[This article was originally posted on 29.4.2011. We have received a few emails and comments that demanded a recognition of the efforts of the Arts Council to enforce legal requirements surrounding unpaid positions. We have now amended the post below and clarified our point. Thanks to all who took the time to write to us.]
Last summer we were thrilled to report that the Arts Council put a stop to advertisements of unpaid positions through their webpage Artjobs. After a few months, however, a disclaimer appeared which refers to the current ambiguous legislation around internships and volunteering (see at the end of this post). We have been told that there has been no increase in unpaid ads since then, which is great news, yet we feel that the position taken by Artjobs is still not strong enough, and could be seen as a step towards the return of unpaid internships under the guise of voluntary positions, especially given the recent promotion of voluntarism by the coalition government.
As we have written elsewhere, the question of free labour cannot be resolved by appealing to Minimum Wage Regulations alone, especially in a sector that relies upon personal relationships and informal agreements. There is a sense that the AC is shying away from confronting the contradiction between the decrease in funding opportunities and the demand to keep up the facade of a thriving cultural sector that is often supported through low levels of pay and overwork.
For instance, a recent consultation with stakeholders reports that:
“Many consultees expressed concern about low levels of pay in the arts, and the struggle for financial security that many artists experience.”
To which the AC response was:
“The issue of pay levels is beyond our remit, but we will continue to work with partners to encourage greater investment in the sector and the creation of new opportunities for artists to earn a living.”
Here’s the announcement from Artjobs.org.uk:
We have made some changes to our posting pages and are now trialing unpaid opportunities on Arts Jobs.
We recognise that there is great value in people having access to proper work experience, where it is offered and arranged properly and is a mutually beneficial arrangement, but that this should never be used as a way of attempting to circumvent National Minimum Wage Regulations.