“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. […]
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.
“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.
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!
Notes from the floor is collecting an anthology of visual and textual materials around the experience of the docent and museum guides than many overqualified cultural workers find themselves in… here is their call:
Few can deny the seductive glamour of the art world: it’s a transnational bash complete with open bar, sparkling conversation, well dressed characters and lots of air-kissing. At least, that’s what we all secretly signed up for when we declared Art History our major in University. Had we known that a life in the arts was synonymous with hours of standing in solitude, uncomfortable uniforms and an over familiarity with the location of public toilets, maybe we wouldn’t have been so keen on the subject. ———- With few paying entry level jobs available in the industry, frustrated aspiring artists, curators and critics are finding common ground in the in the visitor services department. Our mission is to publish an anthology of essays, poems, anecdotes, photographs and the like that explore the joys and trials of working on the art world’s literal and metaphorical floor. We know that docents live a hybrid existence, enjoying the privilege of spending hours in the company of great art, and cursing the job’s sometimes physical and mental monotony; and we hope to receive a range of submissions that reflect all facets of the docent experience. Ideally, submissions will ask questions about the venerated museum/gallery space and link personal experience to larger theoretical explorations.
More info here.
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 www.rightsforinterns.org.uk, see also The Arts Group’s Emerging Worker Report, lobbying for the implementation of a recognised and legislated practice for emerging workers http://www.artsgroup.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/EmergingWorkersFinalWeb.pdf)
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.
“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