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Employers increasingly exploiting internships

Government makes all the right noises but takes no action

Companies are increasingly offering work experience placements to students in a bid to snag them for further free work.

Many other companies are also continuing to exploit the internship market, which according to Intern Aware has lead to around 100,000 unpaid positions in the UK to date.

It added that, despite the government “making all the right noises”, it hasn’t put any practices in place to ensure people are protected from internships, with some even creating positions of this nature in their own departments.

The comments come after sources at a council work placement service told ChannelBiz UK that the number of companies offering to take students for such vacancies had drastically risen over the past year.

“At first we were pleased to see the community pulling together to help students in the area,” the source said. ”However, it soon became apparent they were doing this to feed their needs, offering students Saturday ‘jobs’ after they had finished their two weeks. What many failed to tell them in the first instance was that these were unpaid and so called internships.”

The source added that many students had agreed to work under these terms in the hope that they would be offered paid work – or that their experience would help them gain a better step into their chosen career.

According to Gus Baker, co-director at Intern Aware, this scenario is not uncommon.

“Many careers/professions are asking for internships before people can get full time jobs,” he told ChannelBiz UK. “This leads to a catch 22 situation.”

“You must take this on in a bid to get experience that could lead to a full time job.”

The problem is, internships are expensive.

“Many companies that offer these are in London, where food, rent and accommodation is expensive,” Baker said. “Unless you live in the capital then this could be a problem and this in turn creates a blackout for the rest of the nation.

“The minimum wage is £6.08 an hour and this isn’t offered with unpaid work,” he said.

According to Baker, the government “it half agrees” and has been saying the right things, but so far there has been zero action.

“Nick Clegg says ‘yes you’re right’ but then when it comes to the treasury implementing this, it’s not happening,” Baker said. “In fact there have been some internships offered in this department too.”

His claims were echoed by a Lord, who told ChannelBiz UK under condition of anonymity that the rules surrounding internships really need to be clarified.

“In this time of desperate measures it’s no surprise companies are using sly tactics to get something for nothing,” he said. “And they get away with it because graduates and students desperate to break into their chosen field of work, will do anything”.

“It’s not fair by any means, why should anyone educated or not, be willing to work free with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. And in times such as these, it’s not fair to expect anyone to work their bones off to no financial reward.

“Have we seen the government make any moves? No. And while they can continue to line their own pockets and exploit interns within their departments nothing will change, after all they are hardly leading by example.”

Many young workers do not know their rights when it comes to unpaid placements.

A recent survey carried out by Internocracy found that only 10 percent of under-35s who have heard of internships know their rights when it comes to working as an unpaid intern. Employers are feigning ignorance, with only 12 percent of those asked claiming that they did not know that for-profit companies may be breaking the law if they offering unpaid placements.

The results also found that 84 percent of employees who have worked in a company that employs interns think that they are a useful addition to their organisation.

Mr Baker said that interns should know their rights.

“Companies are taking advantage of the fact that there is a high level of graduate unemployment and we advise people to know there rights. They have a right to claim money even if they have finished working with a company,” Baker added.

The National Union of Journalists, which has run a  campaign against exploitative unpaid work, gave us a statement from the NUJ’s general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet: “This practice continues to exploit dreams and exclude new talent, undermining the diversity of our profession, just when we should be nurturing and supporting the people coming into the industry.  Employers in the media should be warned; we will continue to take on those who seek to exploit young people and new comers to the industry.”

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