Internships - what are your rights?

Posted in: Advice, Internships, Work Experience

I have seen a surge in the number of first years talking to us about undertaking a summer internship. One of the questions that keeps cropping up is will I get paid? There seems to be an assumption that you have to accept unpaid work to get any meaningful experience.

It is important to be clear on terminology, according to Internaware:

An ‘intern’ is a junior member of staff, often employed on a short term contract. Being called an ‘intern’ is similar to being called a ‘trainee’. Interns are almost always expected to do real work, completing set jobs that otherwise a paid member of staff would do, and therefore has a right to be paid. Work experience or shadowing is different. Instead of doing, participants watch and observe. They do not need to be paid.

We understand students are under huge amounts of pressure to gain work experience and focus on building their CV's from Day 1 at University. However, we urge our students to think carefully before accepting an unpaid internship, here's why:

  1. Because the Law says so! The UK has laws on National Minimum Wage which means those who work should be paid a certain wage at a minimum. The exceptions to this are if you are doing volunteer work or a work placement as part of your course. I accept lines get blurred so think of it as this: if you were not there doing a certain job would the organisation have to pay for someone else to do it? If you've got set hours, tasks and responsibilities then you almost certainly count as a ‘worker’ and have a right to be paid.
  2. It's not fair: Unpaid internships require you to have another source of income in order to pay your living costs while you work (usually help from parents or a partner), so if you don’t have this same support you are put at a disadvantage to those who do. And if the only way to get a certain job is to do an unpaid internship that means a whole section of society becomes locked out of certain careers.
  3. What does it say about the company? If a company can't be bothered to pay its interns, what makes you think the experience you will gain will be valuable? What sort of support and mentoring will you receive? What skills and knowledge will you gain?Will they even write you a proper reference? (not so for this poor intern)
  4. You are worth it! Ignore the strap-line from a popular cosmetic brand. Instead consider the effort you have put in to get to uni, the knowledge you are gaining from your lectures, the skills you have to offer....all this needs to be recognised through proper pay.

For more information have a look at the resources on the Careers Service website. If you are in any doubt please make an appointment with one of our expert Careers Advisers.

Posted in: Advice, Internships, Work Experience


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