National Union of Students and Intern Aware today announced plans of a national investigation into the practice of unpaid internships. The findings will support the NUS New Deal general election manifesto and Intern Aware’s primary recommendation – for the next government to introduce, and enforce, legislation that work experience of over four weeks should be paid at least national minimum wage, by 2020.
Students, parents, and members of the general public are urged to call a confidential hotline, to enable NUS to build a list of name and shame companies that use unpaid interns. NUS and Intern Aware will then release the information publically in the weeks preceding the general election as a challenge to all parties to include firm commitments to tackle the practice in their manifestos.
NUS President Toni Pearce said: “We know that it is really difficult for people to come forward as they may feel that their own career could be jeopardised by naming and shaming. However we need to stand together to tackle the practice of unpaid internships. I would urge everyone to remember we will treat all callers confidentially.
“Every student should have the opportunity to gain meaningful work experience, regardless of their background. The expectation for young people to work for free, for long periods, to gain experience is exploitative and blocks those from less wealthy backgrounds from some professions.
“Unpaid internships are illegal when they don’t comply with national minimum wage legislation. We want the next government to introduce and enforce legislation that all work experience of over four weeks should be paid.”
Kings College literature student Ishani took a month long internship with a prolific national magazine and deems internships classist, saying:
“The only people who can afford to do it realistically are either those with savings, or those with relatively rich parents who are willing to give up that money.”
Chris Hares, Campaigns Manager at Intern Aware said: “For too long, unpaid internships have been a major barrier to many young people who can’t get a job without experience, but can’t get experience because they cannot afford to work for free. Not only is this damaging to social mobility, but where real work is being done it is often illegal.
“Political parties of all sides need to get a grip on this situation, and act in the best interests of young people and businesses alike. In fact, two-thirds of business have said they would welcome clarity in the law on internships. Most recognise that unpaid internships are actually damaging to businesses, as they only allow them to select talented young people from a limited pool of people who can afford to work for free.
“A step change could be achieved by a four week limit, which is supported by NUS as well as a range of business leaders, universities and organisations.”
Last year, the Sutton Trust estimated that one-third (31 per cent) of graduate interns are unpaid (2014), with an expenses-only internship in London costing a young person £926 a month. In the same year YouGov polling revealed that only 4 per cent of the population believe that they, or someone in a family like theirs, could definitely afford to do an unpaid internship.
Last year too, an Ipsos MORI poll showed that 85 per cent of people believe that interns should be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.
Call the NUS confidential internship hotline on 01625 413279. Alternatively, you can go to www.nus.org.uk/shareyourstories to share your experiences of work exploitation online