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Unpaid internships have become the scourge of the industry

6 November 2012

Low pay is wider problem than the public believe in the media industry, but working for nothing is a becoming a worrying trend, NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet has told the Low Pay Commission.

Giving evidence to the Commission, the NUJ said:

"Competition to get into what is seen as a glamorous industry, at a time when jobs are scarce, has bred a new phenomenon: the unpaid intern. This practice continues to exploit dreams and exclude new talent, undermining the diversity of our profession. Employers in the media should be warned - we will continue to take on those who seek to exploit young people and newcomers to the industry. We cannot have a situation where only those who can afford to work for nothing are given a chance to get a break in the industry."

This week journalists in York and Bradford have taken industrial action because their pay has been frozen for three years in four while the company, Newsquest made £2 million profits. A trainee on a Newquest weekly starts on just £7.52 an hour and after five years' service on Newsquest Bradford titles, journalists on the weeklies earn £19,672 and on the dailies £22,426. Because of year-on-year cuts many journalists are working unpaid overtime to get their paper out.

Michelle Stanistreet said:

"Our members are struggling to pay their bills and are finding it very tough, while at the same time newspaper executives, such as Paul Davidson, Newsquest's chief executive,  pocketed almost £600,000 in salary alone last year."

In the NUJ's submission to the Low Pay Commission, the union said advertising unpaid internships should be made illegal and that HMRC should view such ads as an attempt to breach the law. It said: "Unpaid "internships" have become the scourge of the industry. Legislation should ensure the NMW is afforded to interns to enable them to enforce their right to pay without the requirement to prove they are a "worker" or an "employee" in order to assert their rights.

The NUJ supports the TUC's position that while the law is broadly in the correct form, what is needed is a prolonged program of enforcement that leads to some visible outcomes.

The NUJ's Cashback for Interns campaign has highlighted unscrupulous employees and the union has successfully negotiated pay for journalists who were expected to do real work without being remunerated.

The NUJ carried out a survey in 2008 on work experience placements. It found that one-in-four people claimed to have completed a placement at an organisation that would not be able to function normally without people on work experience.

One member surveyed said:

"I do not think [a NATIONAL NEWSPAPER] would survive without unpaid work experience. One of my colleagues had been working unpaid for 11 months before going on the payroll after NUJ pressure. Although I was more qualified than her, I was unable to afford to work such a long time unpaid."

Read the NUJ's submission in full.
More employers must sign up to the Living Wage, says TUC.

Tags: interns, internships, Cashback for Interns, minimum wage