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Cashback for interns

20 August 2013

NUJ interns campaign

Have you worked in the media but not paid at any point during the past six years?

Were you taken on as an unpaid intern or asked to extend your work experience into a far longer period than you had initially applied for?

If so – you could be eligible to claim back money you are owed. The NUJ campaigns against the exploitation of interns and the union investigates and supports wage claims.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ)  2013 report revealed that 82 per cent of new entrants to journalism had done an internship, of which 92 per cent were unpaid.

The union supports properly structured work placements for journalists to gain valuable experience in the industry and recognises how valuable work experience is to potential employers.

Unfortunately, some employers exploit the genuine goodwill and ambition of new entrants to the media industry. In some cases, unpaid internships are used by employers as a way to get work done that should be carried out by employees.

When the NUJ heard about interns being kept on for more than six months – working for nothing but basic expenses while carrying out tasks expected of an employee – we took action.

NUJ wins first legal victory

When the NUJ helped Keri Hudson successfully sue TPG Web Publishing, the tribunal judgement made clear that many interns who have worked for little or no money could be entitled to claim the minimum wage.

Keri's story: Union wins first victory for intern, NUJ press release.

Former interns may be able to claim through the courts up to six years after they finish their unpaid stint.

The minimum wage rules do not apply, however, to students on organised work experience placements or volunteers.

Internships tend to be longer than work experience, with a greater time commitment and deadlines, and involve making an evidenced contribution to the work of the organisation.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"This practice continues to exploit dreams and exclude new talent, undermining the diversity of our profession, just when we should be nurturing and supporting the people coming into the industry. 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."

If you are an intern who is not being paid you can contact the NUJ at campaigns@nuj.org.uk

A web tool enabling people to report bad employers suspected of not paying the national minimum wage (NMW) to interns to the taxman has been launched by the Unite union. The NUJ, Unite and other unions are working together with Intern Aware, to encourage employers to sign up to a pledge to pay at least the NMW to interns, currently £6.31 an hour. The tool allows people to confidentially report employers that are not paying interns directly to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) which has responsibility for enforcing the NMW.

Low pay and wages

Read the NUJ's submission to the Low Pay Commission on internships.

The NUJ has successfully negotiated the London living wage rate for interns working for the British Science Association. Three-month internships for science communications workers on the online forum, Science in Society, had originally been advertised at the statutory minimum wage of £6.08 per hour. The association has now agreed to pay the London living wage rate of £8.30. The details are on the NUJ Lewisham website.

The NUJ is backing a TUC & NUS campaign to protect interns from abuse.

Go to the TUC website for interns.

Handy tools

The TUC has launched a free rights for interns smartphone app. It features tools to help interns evaluate their own internship, or ones they are considering, as well as general guidance on work rights and entitlements to wages. Interns who think they should be paid can use the app to find out what they are owed.

The government has endorsed the voluntary common best practice code for high quality internships published by the TUC.

At a conference organised by the TUC, the then employment minister, Ed Davey, said:

"While we believe that internships can be a valuable learning experience for young people and it is important we do not close these opportunities down, we will not stand by and see people being exploited. Exploitation is unacceptable and where employment law is being broken we will take action."

You can access the government's Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 23680800 917 2368.

There is also an online complaints and enquiry form on the government's website.

Challenging elitism

The fair access to professional careers report stated:

"A generation ago it was perfectly possible for a senior national journalist to have worked their way up from a local paper and to have entered the profession without a university degree."

Jeremy Dear on unpaid internships (April 2011)Former NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear 
writes about unpaid internships for the Journalist
(April/May 2011
)

In the NUJ's submission, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ  general secretary, said:

"Scoop, Evelyn Waugh's classic journalism novel, was set in a time when Oxbridge toffs and socialites ruled the world, inhabited the newsroom of the Daily Beast and became war correspondents. William Boot may have been an accidental interloper, but he still needed to have been to a 'good' school to get his wildlife column.

"So, almost 90 years later, is the world of newspapers any better? Sadly the evidence shows that it is still those from privileged backgrounds who get to the top in the media – and the situation is getting worse.

"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.

"It is vital that a modern, democratic nation has a media that reflects all its citizens and is not a redoubt of the privileged classes. The management of the mainstream media is also the loser if it is not prepared to look for talent beyond a cohort of people who looks like itself."

Read the NUJ's full submission on journalism and social class.

Unpaid internships and a culture of privilege are ruining journalism writes David Dennis, The Guardian.

Graduate Fog on Buzzfeed on 13 things you should not say to an unpaid intern

PR interns report

A survey of more than 150 young PR professionals, by the Public Relations Consultants Association and website Intern Aware, has revealed that internships are poorly paid, lack diversity and do not necessarily lead to paid work. More than a fifth of interns working in the PR industry receive no pay.

The research found that:

  • 23 per cent of respondents revealed they were not paid at all
  • 39 per cent were unpaid but received some expenses
  • 15 per cent were paid the national minimum wage
  • 13 per cent received more than the national minimum wage

Read the full report on PR interns.

Frequently asked questions and answers

  • Is the NUJ trying to stop me getting work experience?

    The NUJ supports and actively encourages students and unemployed journalists to obtain high-quality work experience. We are working with good employers to ensure placements of up to a month are properly supervised so participants get the most out of them and are given constructive feedback at the end. There is a different between work experience and employers filling jobs using interns. Read the NUJ's work experience guidelines.

  • I did a two-week work experience at my local newspaper in the summer after I finished my exams at school. Can I claim the minimum wage for that?

    It is extremely unlikely a short period of work experience like this would qualify as a period for which you can claim unpaid wages.

  • I did six months' full-time, unpaid work for my boss, but eventually he gave me a job. Does that mean I can't claim the minimum wage?

    You should first seek advice from the NUJ. But if this happened within the past six years you may have grounds for a claim. Just because you eventually got a paid job does not mean you are not entitled to the minimum wage for some or all of the period you worked without pay. To seek legal advice, send your name, contact details, membership number and information about your query to legal@nuj.org.uk

  • But what if I agreed to work for nothing?

    Recent employment tribunal rulings have found that, provided an intern falls within the category of a worker, they are entitled to the minimum wage – regardless of what they had apparently agreed with the employer.

  • Where I work there are loads of unpaid interns doing the same work as me, but for no money. What can I do about it?

    Contact your local NUJ representative in absolute confidence. If you are not sure who to contact, email: campaigns@nuj.org.uk

  • Why shouldn't I work for free for as long as I want to if I can afford it?

    Working for nothing ultimately undermines and devalues the work of everyone in the industry and makes it more difficult to get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. If employers and media organisations believe they can get away with paying people nothing and can rely on trained and qualified interns, they will almost certainly do so to boost their own profits and reduce their overheads, particularly during an economic downturn.

    Our industry is already highly competitive and difficult for less well-off people to enter. It is ultimately the responsibility of all of us to make sure our industry doesn't become a hobby in which only the very rich can afford to take part. That's why, while we should ensure there are properly regulated work experience placements, we have to draw a line and demand that everyone working in journalism gets a wage for doing so.

More information

The NUJ is not the only organisation campaigning for better rights for interns. You can also find advice and information from the following websites:

Intern Aware briefing

Unpaid interns: 100 firms being investigated by HMRC, Guardian report

Tim Crook has written for Comparative Media Law and Ethics about Unpaid work experience and internship in the media - Postmodernist slavery?

Tags: , students, work experience, interns, rights

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