WAIT – DIDN’T HE LIKE INVENT THE NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE LAW?
Tony Blair – whose own government introduced the National Minimum Wage in 1998 – is at the centre of a new row about the use of unpaid interns within charities and non-profit organisations.
The former Prime Minister’s charitable foundation – the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative – is currently advertising a three-month internship at their London office, paying expenses only. Despite asking for applicants with “excellent academic credentials with a proven administrative and numerical ability and proficiency in Excel, ideally with prior experience in an office environment” and detailing a long list of responsibilities this intern will be expected to shouder, the AGI have claimed they “do not have the funds to pay volunteers for a role not vital to the organisation.”
For many months now, Graduate Fog and its users have been concerned about the spread of unpaid internships into the charity sector.
Job-seeking graduates are reporting being ‘priced out’ of careers in the charity sector because they can’t afford to work for free for months before they are eligible to apply for paid roles.
Nowadays, it seems you have to be rich to afford the luxury of working for a charity. (And yes, we are all aware of the irony here).
The Africa Governance Initiative advertisement reads:
INTERN: LONDON OFFICE
The Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) works closely with select African countries and their leaders in order to help them deliver on their poverty-reduction agendas. AGI operates using a unique and innovative model that combines the high-level experience and relationships of Mr. Blair, with on-the-ground project teams. We work with countries – currently Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda – that are at potential turning-points, where a tragic past has left a lack of capacity and deep poverty, but where there is clear potential and a leader with the vision and political will to achieve progress. Our work focuses on institutional and operational capacity at the heart of government and the development of the private sector. For more information, see www.africagovernance.org
AGI is a UK charity, which currently has 4 offices: an HQ in London (which sits within the Office of Tony Blair); in Kigali, Rwanda; in Monrovia, Liberia, and in Freetown, Sierra Leone. We are looking for outstanding individuals to undertake a 3 month internships at our London office, which sets strategic direction for the projects, focuses on fundraising for the development and expansion of AGI, and provides administrative and other support to the teams. The internship is unpaid, however you will be reimbursed for your lunch and travel expenses. The ideal candidate would have excellent academic credentials with a proven administrative and numerical ability and proficiency in Excel, ideally with prior experience in an office environment. We are looking for interns to start in August 2011. Please submit a CV and cover letter along with your availability for interview to: [NAME WITHELD BY GRADUATE FOG]@tonyblairoffice.org
Providing logistical and admin support to HQ and in-country teams, including: assisting with HQ and in-country teams’ travel requirements e.g. flights, visas; assisting with general HQ logistics, including: maintaining office systems; assisting with recruitment rounds, ordering office supplies, ad hoc errands etc;
Providing research support to HQ and in-country teams where required, including:
- sourcing articles;
- briefing on individuals and organisations;
- actively seeking articles and publications of interest to the work of the AGI;
- attending events of interest to the AGI’s work;
Depending on performance and business need, there may also be an opportunity to become involved in other areas of AGI such as strategy development, fundraising and our work on investment in Africa.
- Currently undertaking or have completed an undergraduate degree;
- Self-motivated and pro-active, with the ability to work as part of a team;
- Excellent communication skills, both oral and written, and a highly professional manner;
- Strong administrative and numerical skills, and a proven knowledge of IT systems, particularly Excel and Powerpoint;
- Previous office experience is highly desirable;
- An interest in Africa, international affairs and/or international development is desirable but not essential.
When challenged, a spokesperson for the Africa Governance Initiative said;
“At the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), we value our interns very highly. By volunteering with us, they help contribute to improving government effectiveness in some of the world’s most fragile states while gaining valuable experience of the international development sector…. But as a small charity, experiencing the same financial pressures as the rest of the third sector, we do not have the funds to pay volunteers for a role not vital to the organisation.”
Doesn’t Mr Blair have to pay this member of staff? Strictly speaking, no.
As we understand it, there is currently a loophole in the National Minimum Wage legislation which states that interns working within charities and non-profit organisations need not be paid the NMW, even if they meet the criteria of being a ‘worker’ (including set hours and responsibilities). Purely because of the nature of their employer’s work, they are classified as ‘voluntary workers’, who need not be paid.
We are concerned that this loophole – originally designed to protect genuine volunteering, like working in your local soup kitchen – is now being used by many charitable and non-profit organisations to gain free labour, usually in the form of junior administrative roles. Graduate Fog believes that this is not what the loophole was designed for – and we argue that these roles are not true volunteering. They are work, which should be paid.
Unlike genuine volunteering work – which is open to anyone – this internship requires a university education, previous office experience, strong administrative and numerical skills and a proven knowledge of IT systems. Interns will be expected to perform a number of administrative and research tasks – and there is even an opportunity to earn further responsibilities depending on performance. Starting to think that this sounds like an entry level job description? You’re not the only one.
But isn’t it greedy for interns working at charities and non-profit organisations to ask for a salary? Graduate Fog says: No – it is entirely reasonable and fair. Since it is impossible to live for free, I don’t see how it’s reasonable to expect anyone to work for free.
In fact I would go even further – I actually think that it is shameful of big charities and non-profit organisations to lead their junior staff to believe that asking for pay for their work is greedy (isn’t this the subtle suggestion here?). Too often, interns are made to feel that they must prove their dedication to the cause by working for free, full-time. Yet senior staff aren’t expected to demonstrate their commitment like this. They are properly paid for their work – indeed, they often receive pretty hefty salaries.
Graduate Fog is extremely disappointed to see Tony Blair involved in using unpaid interns. For all his many (many, MANY) faults, I genuinely thought he understood the importance of paying workers a fair wage for their labour. When the NMW law was introduced in 1998, most people agreed it was about protecting society’s most vulnerable workers. At that time, that meant the lowest-skilled workers – but fast forward to 2011 and guess what? That now includes university graduates. The same young people who his government urged to go to university because it would guarantee them a better life.
How much money is Tony Blair is estimated to have made since he left Downing Street in 2007?
ANSWER: £20 million.
*Should Tony Blair pay his intern?
Is it fair to ask junior staff within charities to work for free – or should charities be exempt from the NMW laws? Are you disappointed to see Tony Blair – once the champion of vulnerable, low-paid workers – using a legal loophole to gain free labour? Has he betrayed social mobility?
See the ad for yourself:
Link dead? Here’s the PDF:
Africa Governance Initiative internship