The UK Parliament has voted in favour of a new law that would see unpaid internships banned, preventing employers from exploiting the goodwill of those willing to show off their talents for free.
Many companies have viewed unpaid internships as an excellent opportunity to size up various candidates in order to choose the one most suited to a particular job role.
For many unemployed, however, unpaid internships often amount to little more than exploitation, with prospective employees asked to work long hours for no pay to complete tasks that would otherwise be carried out by a salaried employee.
The situation has reached critical proportions during the current financial crisis, with youth unemployment hitting all-time highs and employers spying opportunities to exploit those desperate for a job.
Yesterday, Parliament was asked to vote on proposals that would make it an offence for employers not to pay an intern for their work.
The proposals were introduced into Parliament via a ‘ten-minute rule’ bill. Although such bills rarely become law by themselves, the convincing vote of 181 to 19 in favour of legislation should highlight the issues to the Government and may act as a spur to drive forward legislation.
Unpaid internships are already unlawful, as a string of recent court cases have demonstrated. In 2011 Keri Hudson won the right to be paid for her time working for a website called My Village.
In Ms Hudson’s case she worked for the site for six weeks as an unpaid intern. In that time she rapidly progressed to a position managing other unpaid interns, and before long was working long hours.
“I’d done ridiculous amounts of work for them. I’d practically run the site,” she told The Guardian at the time.
She quit the position, and decided with the help of the National Union of Journalists’ Cashback for Interns programme decided to sue the owners of the My Village site, TPG Publishing.
She won her case and was awarded five weeks’ worth of pay at the National Minimum Wage plus holiday pay accrued for the period she worked.
However, although unpaid internships are already illegal, in many competitive industries such as fashion and the media they remain a major issue. In such industries companies know that there are so many people who want a job that they are able to exploit individuals and still rely on a steady stream of others.
Such a system is inherently unfair on those from poorer backgrounds who are unable to support themselves unpaid, whilst wealthier counterparts can survive for months on money from their parents.
It is this sort of behaviour that Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke hopes will be targeted by the new law.
“In a nation such as ours, nobody should be expected to work for free. Work should be rewarded,” he said.
“I am sure many MPs on all sides would baulk at the idea of children only getting access to a decent education if they have a wealthy background, but this is the situation we’re allowing to continue in the early employment market,” he added.
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