No To 4 Weeks: Don't Legalise 4 Week Unpaid Internships in UK.
No To 4 Weeks: Don't Legalise 4 Week Unpaid Internships in UK.
No To Four Weeks was created by Fashion Workie founder Andrew Loader to highlight the issues of unpaid internships in the UK and to petition the Unpaid Work Experience Bill created by Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE / Alex Cunningham MP. A Bill that if passed, will legalise four week unpaid internships. #noto4weeks
Unpaid Internships And The Broken Career Path
In the UK, graduates and young professionals are facing a big problem, lack of experience and the lack of advertised entry-level paid roles. How do you get hired if you don’t have experience and how do you get experience if you can’t get hired. It’s a catch-22 situation. Therefore, individuals look to internships to gain experience, which are renowned for being unpaid.
Unpaid internships can be found in many industries, but perhaps more so within media and the arts. These desirable industries attract a plethora of individuals who are so keen to get their foot in the door and gain experience that they are willing to work unpaid. This practice is compounded as the norm by an all too common, damaging perpetuated message that working for free is the done thing early in your career to gain experience and get ahead. A message typically passed on by successful industry personalities, who create a false narrative that working unpaid breeds success.
With so many looking for experience and an opportunity to embark on their chosen career path, it has become easy for businesses and individuals to exploit those looking to further their career by offering unpaid internships instead of paid work. As a result, the intern position (often unpaid) has morphed into a new entry-level position, resulting in some of the most traditional entry-level roles requiring substantial experience, e.g. an assistant based role requiring at least one year of experience in a range of activities.
This is a flawed, exploited and broken career path structure with social mobility ramifications, affecting inclusivity, diversity and ultimately those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
What Is The Unpaid Work Experience Bill?
In the fight against unpaid internships, Lord Holms of Richmond MBE and Alex Cunningham MP have created the Unpaid Work Experience Bill. A Bill that if passed, will allow four week unpaid "work experience" roles aka internships. Only after four weeks would the internship be legally obliged to offer payment. Thus, legalising four week unpaid work experience/internship roles.
Taken directly from the Bill, "work experience means observing, replicating, assisting with and carrying out any task with the aim of gaining experience of a particular workplace, organisation, industry or work-related activity.” Basically, an incredibly broad definition that can easily be applied to most entry-level roles. Work Placement opportunities exclusively for students undertaking an industry placement, as a required part of their further or higher education studies would not be affected.
Experience vs Exploitation: Why The Unpaid Work Experience Bill Is A Bad Idea
Fashion Workie was launched in 2009 as part of my final major project while studying Fashion Promotion and Imaging at the University for the Creative Arts in Epsom. Based upon my decade-plus experience observing how internships have grown and become highly exploited within the fashion industry, I can confidently state I feel the Unpaid Work Experience Bill will not solve the problem of unpaid internships.
The Unpaid Work Experience Bill will not stop the exploitation; it will only prop up unpaid internships through the legalisation and legitimisation of a four week unpaid timeframe. A clear message will be sent that interns don't have to be paid for up to four weeks, likely resulting in an increased number of unpaid internships and less paid internships.
Unpaid internships hide behind the notion that the role is offering work experience; therefore, the new work experience definition will be detrimental in the fight against unpaid internships. Giving work experience the broad legal definition of "assisting with and carrying out any task with the aim of gaining experience" will only work in favour of the exploitation. For instance, that definition can be easily applied to most entry-level assistant roles. The Unpaid Work Experience Bill is essentially providing a broad definition that would exempt individuals from payment for up to four weeks.
Worryingly, the Private Members Bill is supported with research that a majority of businesses support no payment for up to four weeks. Four weeks is a very long time to work unpaid, allowing exploiters to attain a lot of free labour. At the end of four weeks, there is no guarantee an intern will stay on and receive payment; another intern can simply be recruited for another four weeks, after that, another intern for four weeks and so on.
I feel it's important to bring up that there is already a misconception that unpaid internships lasting two or four weeks are acceptable, which is not true. I can only imagine how bad unpaid internships will become should the Unpaid Work Experience Bill pass, and it becomes common knowledge internships don't have to be paid for up to four weeks.
One of the elements of exploitation in unpaid internships comes in the form of using the unpaid role to trial someone for a paid role. The Unpaid Work Experience Bill does nothing but add to this problem. Those already involved in this shady practice will only be incentivised by the four week payment free timeframe the Unpaid Work Experience Bill is proposing to introduce.
Additionally, the Unpaid Work Experience Bill does not clamp down on unpaid internships being used to fill legitimate/one-off vacancies. For instance, a public relations company recruiting a team of unpaid interns to work at an event, or a clothing brand looking for a marketing intern to undertake the role of Marketing Coordinator.
Social mobility will also be damaged by introducing a law change that allows unpaid roles for up to four weeks. Expecting a graduate to work unpaid up to four weeks, who can easily be replaced with another unpaid intern does not help to further their career, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. At a time when diversity, inclusion and equality is being highlighted more than ever, it is crucial to focus on how the Unpaid Work Experience Bill, if passed, will affect these issues. The Unpaid Work Experience Bill does not help fight social exclusivity for those who can't afford to work for free and will not help to bring about the much-discussed, and necessary change industries require. Instead, the advantage will likely remain with those from a privileged background who can afford to work for free, resulting in increased opportunity hoarding.
Why Sign The Petition
Laws do not change easily; therefore, it would be a shame for a change to take place that does not significantly help fix the issue of unpaid internships/unpaid work. The unpaid internship can’t be allowed to continue becoming the new entry-level role in any industry. Therefore; a law change or multiple law changes must have a real impact on the problem. Although it's clear what the problem is, this issue won't be solved by an overly simple solution of allowing four week unpaid internships. A more strategic solution is required.
This ultimately comes down to experience vs exploitation. Who in the long-run benefits from a four week unpaid internship timeframe? Not the intern. This proposed law change isn't stopping unpaid internships; it's permitting those already exploiting and breaking the law to do it legally.
If I’m wrong, and working unpaid for up to four weeks helps social mobility, increases inclusion and diversity, drastically stops unpaid internships, and increases paid internships, then I’ll happily be wrong. If however, like me, you agree, allowing unpaid internships up to four weeks only serves to benefit those already exploiting the unpaid internship, please sign the petition and let’s show the House of Lords that the solution needs a rethink.
Head over to www.NoTo4Weeks.org to learn more about alternative solutions, other than simply legalising four week unpaid internships as well as graphics to promote the petition via social media. Please sign and support the petition. Thank you for reading. #NoTo4Weeks
Fashion Workie Founder