Longer term readers of my blog posts here will be aware that I have argued against the use of unpaid interns. A key reason for my annoyance is that many could be illegal as they would be in breach of the minimum wage legislation. In some industries the practice of use of unpaid interns is not prevalent, but in other industries it seems common practice. It is particularly notorious in areas such as fashion journalism. As implied by an article in this week’s Observer, such practices impede social mobility.
I am therefore delighted to read Shiv Malik’s article in the Guardian that informs us that Hazel Blears has cross-party support for a bill being introduced to parliament to make advertising unpaid internships in breach of the legislation illegal. I hope her bill is passed.
A counter argument might be that banning such advertisements might lead to further difficulties for social mobility as the jobs will be obtained by word of mouth recommendations. Who you know as opposed to what you know will become increasingly important. However, I do not give that much weight to that argument. What will the young person write on their curriculum vitae who takes such a role if legislation is tightened and enforced? “I worked for XYZ Fashion Magazine illegally so I should be grateful if you do not write to them asking for a reference about the quality of my work, because any response from them might be used as evidence against them in a court of law that they have acted illegally.” It is a nonsense.
The truth is that young people in 2012 are being asked to work for no pay. They are doing similar work, technologically adjusted, to young people in 1992. The difference was that in 1992 the jobs were referred to as graduate trainee jobs, summer jobs, office juniors or entry level jobs, and paid, whereas in 2012 they are often referred to as internships and are unpaid. This development is not a positive one.