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.
A 2018 National Council for the Training of Journalists survey found that the majority (87 per cent) of new entrants did a period of work experience or worked an internship before gaining their first paid job. The vast majority (95 per cent) were unpaid and the work experience or internship lasted an average of eight weeks, although the lengths varied widely from short (lasting one to two weeks) to 52 weeks. The report said this had led to a situation where “would-be journalists tend to need family financial support to fund courses or a period of unpaid work, with the implication that young people not in these circumstances continue to be deterred from becoming journalists”. Large numbers of internships are never advertised and are offered through informal networks, again locking out young people without connections.
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.
The Sutton Trust report, Pay As You Go published in November 2018, revealed that more than a quarter (27%) of graduates surveyed had taken on an unpaid internship, with many having to rely on parents, friends and second jobs to get by. The research found graduate internships were on the rise, with 46 per cent of 21-23 year olds having done one, compared to 37 per cent of 27-29 year olds. Younger graduates were also more likely to have taken on more than one internship. The report said there are around 100,000 interns working in Britain every year, with around 58,000 unpaid. Previous research by the trust found that an unpaid internship costs a single person living in London a minimum of £1,100 per month.
NUJ guidelines on work experience and internships: Work Experience: exploiting the dream
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 email@example.com
The NUJ has been successful in negotiating better rates, for example getting the London Living Wage rate for interns working for the British Science Association.
The TUC’s WorkSmart provides useful information for interns.
The government has published: Providing quality internships: guidance for employers and interns
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."
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."
Latest data from the Labour Force Survey showed 72 per cent of journalists have a parent who worked in one of the three ‘higher-level’ occupations (managers, directors and senior officials, professionals and associate professional and technical occupations) compared with 41 per cent of the workforce as a whole.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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: email@example.com
- 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.