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Economics no image

Published on June 19th, 2012 | by Robert Bickers
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="564"] Are people at job centres wrongly directed towards unpaid jobs? © tomylees[/caption]   In Britain today there is a culture whereby people are expected to work for free as a stage in their career progression. This problem is far wider than the workfare program and in many cases so called ‘internship programs’ are just a way of saving money and subsidising private profit. Up and down the country companies which a few years ago would have employed somebody to do a job have filled the position with an unpaid employee. This trend has not only lead to less paid jobs but also has lead to no real improvement in work experience. Each company would have been needed someone to fill the position regardless and this person would have therefore gained the experience anyway but in a paid position. The problem of individuals needing to do unpaid work in order to gain a foothold in an industry is widespread and growing. Traditionally such practices were limited to professions where there was likely to be a well paid job at the end of the process. For example in the media and fashion industries there is long history of interns being used to assist the work of the companies concerned. In these sort of jobs despite it being wrong not to pay the interns at least there is strong prospect of getting a well paid job eventually. Now however, partially as a result of workfare, young people see it as essential to do unpaid work for companies where there is no prospect of a well paid job in the medium term, for example working as a shop assistant. The workfare program encourages those on Job Seekers Allowance to do unpaid work in these sort of jobs in order to gain work experience. It is in the each company’s interest to minimise their wage bill it therefore makes good commercial sense to exploit the current high unemployment to replace paid staff with unpaid interns. It is morally wrong to exploit unemployed people’s desperation to gain work experience by playing on their fear that they will only get a job by doing unpaid work. The government should step in to regulate internships by requiring employers to prove that there internship program does not replace paid staff or if this is not possible ban all unpaid jobs in non charities. Perhaps a reason why the political parties do not wish to end unpaid internships is that they themselves would not function without them. The political parties and individual parliamentarians rely on an army of interns to do clerical and administrative work in Westminster. The vast majority of these internships are unpaid and are essential to the running of parliament and if it was not for the interns paid people would be needed to do the jobs instead. No wonder that the political elite ignore the problem of the private sector substituting paid staff with unpaid staff when they themselves do it for their own parliamentary offices. I do not oppose all volunteering and I firmly believe that volunteering for charities should continue as it has both a social good and does not subsidise private profit. Since graduation last year I have done two internships in charities; firstly with The British Lung Foundation and now with Catch21. These sort of voluntary positions for charities are completely different to those in the private sector as they lead to genuine social good and are not an example of free labour being used to subsidise private profit. The example of how charities use volunteers for social good should not be used as a justification for not regulating the practice as a whole. The system as it is at the moment will lead to a race to the bottom in terms of wages as more and more positions are filled with unpaid staff. If politicians are unwilling to take action then the situation will only get worse as the rich get richer and the poor remain unpaid. Politicians can start by leading by example to by paying their own interns as party or civil service employees.

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Workfare is unfair

Are people at job centres wrongly directed towards unpaid jobs? © tomylees

 

In Britain today there is a culture whereby people are expected to work for free as a stage in their career progression. This problem is far wider than the workfare program and in many cases so called ‘internship programs’ are just a way of saving money and subsidising private profit. Up and down the country companies which a few years ago would have employed somebody to do a job have filled the position with an unpaid employee. This trend has not only lead to less paid jobs but also has lead to no real improvement in work experience. Each company would have been needed someone to fill the position regardless and this person would have therefore gained the experience anyway but in a paid position.

The problem of individuals needing to do unpaid work in order to gain a foothold in an industry is widespread and growing. Traditionally such practices were limited to professions where there was likely to be a well paid job at the end of the process. For example in the media and fashion industries there is long history of interns being used to assist the work of the companies concerned. In these sort of jobs despite it being wrong not to pay the interns at least there is strong prospect of getting a well paid job eventually. Now however, partially as a result of workfare, young people see it as essential to do unpaid work for companies where there is no prospect of a well paid job in the medium term, for example working as a shop assistant. The workfare program encourages those on Job Seekers Allowance to do unpaid work in these sort of jobs in order to gain work experience.

It is in the each company’s interest to minimise their wage bill it therefore makes good commercial sense to exploit the current high unemployment to replace paid staff with unpaid interns. It is morally wrong to exploit unemployed people’s desperation to gain work experience by playing on their fear that they will only get a job by doing unpaid work. The government should step in to regulate internships by requiring employers to prove that there internship program does not replace paid staff or if this is not possible ban all unpaid jobs in non charities.

Perhaps a reason why the political parties do not wish to end unpaid internships is that they themselves would not function without them. The political parties and individual parliamentarians rely on an army of interns to do clerical and administrative work in Westminster. The vast majority of these internships are unpaid and are essential to the running of parliament and if it was not for the interns paid people would be needed to do the jobs instead. No wonder that the political elite ignore the problem of the private sector substituting paid staff with unpaid staff when they themselves do it for their own parliamentary offices.

I do not oppose all volunteering and I firmly believe that volunteering for charities should continue as it has both a social good and does not subsidise private profit. Since graduation last year I have done two internships in charities; firstly with The British Lung Foundation and now with Catch21. These sort of voluntary positions for charities are completely different to those in the private sector as they lead to genuine social good and are not an example of free labour being used to subsidise private profit.

The example of how charities use volunteers for social good should not be used as a justification for not regulating the practice as a whole. The system as it is at the moment will lead to a race to the bottom in terms of wages as more and more positions are filled with unpaid staff. If politicians are unwilling to take action then the situation will only get worse as the rich get richer and the poor remain unpaid. Politicians can start by leading by example to by paying their own interns as party or civil service employees.

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