An internship is typically a work placement lasting a few months, sought after by recent graduates, who are looking to get their foot in the door of their chosen industry.
As an intern, you are entitled to payment if you are working for a commercial or established company. However, in practice it can be a lot more complicated. In this article, we will explore the nature of internships and the debate around pay and work hours.
By law, it is illegal for employers not to pay their workers at least the national minimum wage. Despite this, unpaid internships have still prevailed, however this will depend on your experience. Therefor it is important to know your rights before embarking on one.
Payment can be exempt if students required to do internships which are less than 1 year and are part of a higher education course. Likewise, if they work for a charity, voluntary organisation or a fundraising body, the company is not obligated to pay.
If the intern is shadowing their employer, salary is not always required, as technically no work is being carried out and they are only observing.
Expenses such as travel and food reimbursement are often given as compensation for lack of payment.
Despite this, by law interns are still entitled to employee rights, as they are still regarded as workers.
Unpaid internships have been criticised as possibly exploitative, as a company usually profits off an interns work while not making any form of income. It can be seen as taking advantage of a young person’s eagerness to gain experience in their chosen field. They can be led on to believe that there may be a chance of full-time paid employments afterwards, which does not always happen.
There is also the issue of graduates from less wealthy backgrounds missing out on the experience, because they can’t afford to work for free. In contrast to this, opportunities are often more available to more privileged graduated who have the freedom to do unpaid work.
Managed well, internships can be an invaluable experience for a graduate, and a cost-effective option for small businesses.
The business gains extra input and fresh perspectives and in return, the graduate gains some solid work experience for their CV.
Internship pay is a bit of a grey area. There is no expectation to pay an intern the same salary as a full-time experienced employee, as they are there to develop their skills.
But they do bring value to the workplace and there is still an ongoing debate on whether all types of internships should be paid the basic wage, as an apprentice would.