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On charities and unpaid interns in volunteers’ clothing

28 Jun

You have to be rich to work for a charity now,” an intern told me recently. “I’m passionate about helping others but after six months of unpaid work it’s a luxury I can’t afford any more. So I’m giving up to do something else.”

This intern is one of a growing number of graduates reporting that the third sector is following politics, fashion and media in requiring its young workers to perform months of unpaid work – “internships” – before they will be considered for their first paid role. Those who can’t fund this period (six to 12 months is the norm) say they are being “priced out” of pursuing a career in this sector. […]

Read more in today’s Guardian Comment is Free promoting the Intern Aware campaign.

Another story showing how internships reproduce systems of privilege and filter out poorer individuals from certain sectors, no matter how educated or passionate they are. And back to our point that hiding unpaid internships under the guise of  “voluntary work” doesn’t really change the substance of an unfair system…as the article says:

Nobody can live for free – so it is unfair to expect them to work for free. Even if it is for a good cause.

Imagine a day without interns ~ Wednesday 8 June, 12-2pm

3 Jun

The Carrot Workers call all interns, ex-interns, teachers and cultural workers to join in

*next Wednesday 8 June 12-2pm*

outside the House of Commons

The NUS, ULU, Unite, Intern Aware, Internocracy, Interns Anonymous, The Intergenerational Foundation, and Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, are calling on politicians from all parties to urgently address the issue of exploitative internships not only within parliament but in all sectors — arts and culture included!

More from the Facebook event page :

“Wednesday 8 June will see the launch of the speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme – a cross-party initiative to create a number of paid internship positions in Parliament for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We welcome the new scheme to open up parliament, but we must recognise that urgent action is needed by Government to tackle the ever growing problem of unpaid and underpaid internships, where hundreds of thousands of young people work are exploited in roles that often breaking the law and should be paid.

More on ULU campaigner blog including the full text of Ross Perlin’s INTERN BILL OF RIGHTS:

We proclaim this INTERN BILL OF RIGHTS as a common standard by which to evaluate and improve internships for the benefit of interns, employers, and society as a whole:

Article 1: All interns deserve fair compensation for their work, usually in the form of wages and sometimes in the form of dedicated training.

Article 2: Interns are entitled to the same legal protections as all other workers, and should not be subject to discrimination, harassment, or arbitrary dismissal. Continue reading

Will Artjobs reintroduce free labour ads :-( ?

29 Apr

[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. Continue reading

HM Revenue&Customs not doing enough to stop illegal unpaid internships

8 Apr

We recommend that the government takes steps to raise awareness of the rules applying to payment of the national minimum wage for those undertaking internships, all other forms of work experience and volunteering opportunities. In addition we recommend that these rules are effectively enforced by HMRC”

says the Low Pay Commission 2011 Report

See also yesterday’s article on the Guardian.

Cashback for media interns

11 Feb

It might be old news to some, but we have only just come across this campaign of the National Union of Journalists – London Freelance Branch which enables media interns to claim back the National Minimum Wage (NMW) in line with the ruling of Reading Employment Tribunal in November 2009 on the case of Nicola Vetta.

The NMW is still only limited to interns who are 21 or over, and unfortunately does not apply to students on work experience placement (which we feel is the first place where the culture of free labour is established and internalised) but it’s still a good place to start from!

Stella McCartney PR man threatens unpaid interns with legal action for complaining

8 Feb

the nakendess here represents how much you earn working for stella mc cartney.

Private Eye  1281, 4-17 feb 2011
Stella McCartney can’t afford to pay interns who work for her for months at a time – but she can afford to pay a PR man to threaten legal action against those who complain.

Continue reading

Chasing the carrot: Is science a precarious profession?

28 Aug

Here’s an interesting short text published by a student at Jena University called Matthias Nies, which looks at the ways in which ‘carrots’ function to drive precarious working practices not just in the field of culture but also in academia. It’s a pretty useful and relevant text, using some 6 Theses on Pracarious work by Manuel Castels to talk about the university – the text was published in a Journal for young academics last winter.

image from our sister collective 'nine to five' in hamburg

image from our sister collective 'nine to five' in hamburg

It’s in german unfortunately, except for a blurb (below). Great impulse for thinking around a double critique of the university as a site of reproduction of precarious labour not just for various supercompetitive job markets (such as the arts) but also as the exemplary site of carrot work in itself (addressing its research cultures and forms of employment).

Chasing the carrot
Is science a precarious profession?

Scientific work is characterized by a certain kind of abeyance. On the one hand scientific workers have a highly autonomous workplace, find their work to be meaningful and themselves to be professionals. On the other hand they have to live with financial insecurity and unclear prospects for a very long time. This profile lets one ask for the precarious potential of scientific work. This text aligns central findings of the scientific investigation of precariousness and in a first approach corre- lates them with the characteristics of science. It becomes obvious that the subjective procession of material and institutional risks of precariousness lead to a dominant pattern of individual problem solving and forbearance which constrains the apperception of options for collective action.

Neis M: Chasing the carrot – is science a precarious profession? German Journal for Young Re- searchers 2009/1(1)
Full german text here

URN: urn:nbn:de:0253-2009-1-90

Artsjobs suspends free labour ads!

3 Aug

Screenshot from

Artsjobs’ decision to temporarily suspend advertisements for unpaid work, voluntary placements and other such ‘opportunities’ is certainly indicative of a more positive action against exploitative cultural work, however it is also  important to consider that some voluntary placements, expenses-paid internships, etc can actually be valuable and worthwhile provided the worker is aware of their rights and is happy with the conditions of their work. The greatest problem is that we live and work in a country where the cultural labour force is insufficiently informed about their own rights and laws. For this reason it is vital that social networks, forums and listings sites strive to provide their users with information of what different kinds of work may entail and of other resources that are available to them. For example there are a considerable number of useful tools and resources, not just for the cultural sector, which remain unused and under-promoted. (Such as the TUC’s campaign website, see also The Arts Group’s Emerging Worker Report, lobbying for the implementation of a recognised and legislated practice for emerging workers

No to zero-cost labour: part II

23 Apr

Do you remember BECTU and London Dream’s tribunal ruling which said that unpaid internships are illegal?

BECTU (The Media and Entertainment Union) received much criticism by independent workers in the film industry about this legal action, some of which came from Shooting People, the independent filmmakers network. After months of low intensity warfare through their websites and blogs, the two organisations finally decided to have a public debate and an upfront discussion on internships, freelabour and the limits of applying the National Minimum Wage legislation to independent cultural projects.

Some Carrot Workers attended the discussion and were happy to find many points of contact and shared struggles between filmmaking and the arts:  the issue of unpaid independent labour, the legal grey area of freelancing and internships in independent projects, the jarring relationship between ‘creative’ work and the right to wages, the question of individual authorship and how to create legal and organisational structures where collective decisions are taken about a ‘product’ that is the result of collective labour.

The event was titled:

“Shooting yourself in the foot? A Debate about Low Budget Collaborations and the National Minimum Wage”

Working for free is the only way for new entrants to get a foot in the door of the film and television industry but are you shooting yourself in the foot?

Jess Search from Shooting People and Martin Spence, assistant general secretary of BECTU, will be among the key speakers to address these issues. They will be joined by Benetta Adamson (TV-Wrap) and Chris Jones (co-author The Guerilla Film-makers Handbook). The debate will be chaired by Stephen Overell, associate director, the Work Foundation.

The full debate is now available on YouTube:

Apart from the inspiring idea of thinking through a ‘creative’ cooperative model for cultural work (Bectu’s working on it, apparently),  in the course of the evening someone said that cinema is a hybrid, a combination of art and commerce – well, we strongly disagree!

This distinction once again relegates art to the romantic idea of free expression and unquantifiable passion that emotionally and conceptually justifies much exploitation in the cultural sector.  Art too is labour: when will we finally see an intern winning a court case against exploitative work conditions in the arts?

Even the New York Times now sees that use of interns may be illegal

8 Apr

The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not


With job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor.

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

Many regulators say that violations are widespread, but that it is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.

The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern. Continue reading