Unpaid interns seek money back? Good luck with that…

I’ve half followed the debate about unpaid internships and Girish Gupta’s fight against the Indy.

Initially, I couldn’t see how such cases would be successful, given that there’s no contract for payment, and the internships are advertised or offered as such. But the NUJ is bullish. Claim back your cash, it advises me in the latest issue of the mag:

Have you worked as an unpaid intern within the past six years? You could be entitled to claim back the National Minimum Wage, regardless of the terms of your internship agreement.

The National Union of Journalists wants to hear from any former journalism intern who would like legal support from the union to claim unpaid wages.  It could be possible to recover up to £232 per 40-hour week of the internship.

Wow. A quick sum. Before getting paid part and full time jobs in journalism, I did about six or seven weeks on regional newspapers; four weeks at a national; six weeks at a newspaper overseas (air fare and accommodation were paid); and two or three weeks at a broadcaster. 18-20 weeks in all*.

I wouldn’t mind getting £4,176 back now! I probably would have felt more exploited if I’d done longer stretches in one place. While I filed lots of copy in those places, I also benefited from many journalists’ time and help while I was learning/training.

Obviously, I was lucky to be able to do those stints (numerous kind friends/family putting me up in various cities) but I don’t regret the experiences and have been very grateful for the support of some of the journalists/friends I met along the way.

While I can see it’s tempting for ex-interns to go for the Murdochs of this world, these payouts could be devastating for small media companies. So I’m sitting on the fence on this one. The unpaid culture needs to change, but I’m not convinced this is the best way to do it.

It did cheer me slightly (at the same time as boiling my blood) that Tories had paid thousands of pounds for their children to do unpaid internships, as a party fundraiser… Or how about £8,000 to work for free at City AM for a fortnight?**

No thanks!

*{update} looks like any work experience conducted as part of a journalism course would be excluded. Not sure how much of mine falls into that category. Some of the time on the newspapers was obligatory as part of the course, although we arranged it ourselves, and we were also expected to have completed a certain amount of experience before starting the course.

**That last one was for charity Help for Heroes.

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2 comments

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