A journalism intern has scored a victory for interns everywhere by successfully suing her publishing company employer for whom she interned unpaid for several weeks. Keri Hudson, 21, proved in an employment tribunal that she had the right to be paid for two months’ work she carried out at My Village website last year, despite having no written contract with her employer.
The National Union of Journalists – which helped her bring the case to court – had some harsh words for bosses who take advantage of young people’s desperation to gain experience in competitive industries like journalism. The NUJ’s general secretary Jeremy Dear warned media employers to “pay interns – or face the consequences”.
The tribunal heard the Keri had received no pay from her employer, despite working 10am to 6pm every day, being responsible for a team of writers – and even for hiring new interns. Apparently, “the company had told her she was not eligible for any pay because they considered her an intern”.
But the judge was having none of it. After hearing a description the work she had carried out, he ruled that she was a ‘worker’ by law – and was therefore entitled to the National Minimum Wage (£5.93 per hour) and holiday pay. My Village was ordered to pay her £1024.98 in damages, £913.22 in national minimum wage back pay and £111.76 in holiday pay.
As one of only a handful of interns who have successfully brought their employer to book, Keri’s victory is highly significant. It sets an important precedent and brings interns a step closer to gaining the legal recognition they deserve. It also means young people who can’t afford to intern unpaid could start seeing more advertisements for paid internships in the future.
The message to employers who exploit interns is clear: It is NOT okay to take advantage of young people’s desperation to gain experience and fleece them for free labour.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said:
“Today’s judgement sends a clear warning to all employers to pay their interns, abide by the law or face the consequences.
“It is unacceptable that full time staff are being sacked while unpaid interns are being exploited. This is the first case of its kind — if employers continue to break the law it will not be the last.”
The NUJ are now appealing to more unpaid journalism interns to come forward if they believe they should have been paid for their work, as part of their ‘Cashback for Interns’ campaign. Those seeking further information should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Will this victory really make a difference?
Will other interns be persuaded to challenge their employer over the pay they are due – or are most young people still too worried about shooting themselves in the foot? Will Keri’s case make employers think twice about taking on unpaid interns – or are their odds of being prosecuted so low that they’ll keep taking their chances?