By Victoria Elliott, London Young Greens Co-Chair
A campaign for equal, fair internships is the current priority for the European Youth Intergroup (the team of politicians from different parties and all European countries whose concern is bettering policies related to young people). There’s a global intern strike planned for 20th February. You can see Terry Reintke, young Green MEP- and all-round awesome and inspirational young politician – from Germany, calling for an unequivocal end to unpaid internships here.
London Young Greens strongly supports this campaign and this strike. In the UK, an attempt to ban unpaid internships was blocked by Tory backbenchers last November (no prizes for guessing which Tory man put his penchant for filibustering into action again). Yet a glance at the W4MP website will show you multiple MPs and political parties seeking unpaid interns for their office at any time.
Unpaid internships reflect systemic ageist bias in our workplaces. The ideas that young people offer are undervalued as we are told that our work is not worth paying for. Meanwhile, organisations take advantage of the thousands of young people, desperate for any work experience, any route into a job, for the free labour they offer. It is beyond basic to suggest that someone must be paid for hours worked – and paid at a living wage.
But the most important issue at stake here is the essential barring of people from low-income backgrounds from whole industries. The domination by the privately educated of top jobs across sectors starts right at this level, with unpaid internships as an entry system into so many jobs. Obviously, the vast majority of young people cannot afford to work for free, so do not take these internships, then are not hired at assistant level due to their “lack of experience,” and so on.
The system continues to perpetuate itself as cultural barriers are in place too, with young people from lower-income backgrounds or without university educations being put off from applying due to the lack of visible people like them in politics, the media, charities and the arts – where unpaid internships are most prevalent.
It is absurd that a politician can claim to work on behalf of all the people in this country and still offer these unpaid positions that give a leg-up to the rich while simultaneously exploiting young people’s eagerness for work experience. It is absurd that a charity (or the UN) can claim to promote human rights and equality across the world while doing the same thing.
London Young Greens calls on all politicians, charities, EU institutions and companies to pay interns at a living wage now – and stop disguising unpaid internships in the language of “volunteering” too.