MEET THE ‘STOCKHOLM SYNDROME’ INTERNS: HAPPY TO WORK FULL-TIME FOR FREE
Seven former interns from the recruitment company Reed have told Graduate Fog they were definitely NOT exploited during their months working there full-time, earning around £90 a week. This was despite describing roles which would seem to fit the criteria which would make them a worker — and therefore entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage (around £237 a week). One intern even admitted that “my working hours as an intern were 9-5,” which appears to conflict with Reed’s statement that their interns “do no have set working hours.”
We assume that the interns’ bombardment of this website (which happened within half an hour on Friday afternoon) is linked to the bad publicity that Reed had last Sunday, when the Observer ran a two-page Special Report about our Pay Your Interns campaign, including mention of our investigation into Reed back in June. At the time, we objected to advertisements for 46 internships within the company, paying well below the NMW. Their job titles of these 12-week placements included “intern receptionist,” “intern executive assistant” and “secretarial admin internship.”
Of course, the Reed interns are entitled to their opinion — but so is Graduate Fog. And it is our opinion that their behaviour is typical of a small but growing group of what we call “Stockholm syndrome” interns. These are the young workers who appear to have developed a distorted view of what constitutes fair, decent or reasonable behaviour by their employer. Their logic has become so twisted that they furiously defend their right to work for free, insisting they are happy to accept experience in place of monetary payment.
The problem, of course, is that they do not see the big picture. They do not see that for every intern who agrees to work unpaid for months, many others who can’t afford to are blocked from competing for those opportunities. They do not see that as unpaid internships become the norm, companies have even less reason to offer young workers paid jobs (why would they, when they can get people to do them for free?). They are convinced that unpaid internships offer a solution to youth unemployment — when we believe they are a huge part of the problem.
Here are some of the Reed interns’ thoughts:
“The internship was the best thing to happen to me and I have come so far since. I could not recommend it more. I find it very sad that people are so mislead by internships. I was given food and travel allowance which was more than enough to live off, and given the experience and training I received, the lack of payment was nothing to complain about.” Becky
“Did you know that internship aren’t meant to be paid! It is only expenses that are required to be paid in an internship as they are especially laid out to give people work experience when they have none.” Emily
“We were all told that this would be unpaid, we weren’t kidnapped and forced into it… The tasks we are given depend on the kind of experience the intern chooses. I chose to do sales calls (with incentives and prizes, also earning some commission doing this) as well as finding CV’s, interviewing candidates and going out on client visits. Other interns have chosen to learn admin skills such as processing timesheets, writing references, writing job descriptions and making posters for the walls.” Daisy
“I recently completed a 12 week internship with the Hospitality & Leisure division at Reed, and had the best experience I could have possibly had. I admit had I found a part-time job in a retail shop I would have earned more in monetary terms, however money isn’t everything to me, it was more important that I was in a full time working environment, learning completely new and challenging skills to enhance my employability once graduated. Reed gives this opportunity to many students or graduates that may not able to find work, possibly due to lack of experience and obviously because of the state of the economy too with a record high of young people out of work.” Sarah
Brr – is it cold in here suddenly? Because we find reading this really chilling. It is disturbing that these interns seem to have accepted months of unpaid (or low-paid) work as something that young people must do, without questioning why – or where this is leading us all. They also appear to disregard the value of of their labour – believing that because they lack experience their employer is doing them a favour by allowing them to work there and “gain skills”.
We saw similar evidence when exposed luxury concierge firm Quintessentially for running unpaid internships. We felt as though we were talking to zombies. To us, these interns’ comments are proof that unpaid internships are distorting young people’s idea of the ancient contract between employer and employee: “I work for you, you pay me.” This is troubling – because the link between work and pay underpins our society.
Why are these young workers unaware of their legal rights as interns? And when they are told about their rights to pay, why are they so eager to disregard them? Why aren’t the authorities enforcing the National Minimum Wage law, so these interns know that working unpaid is not the norm – and it’s not okay? And why are our politicians still ignoring this vital issue?
*What do you think of the Reed interns’ comments?
Do you find it chilling that they seem unaware of their rights – or happy to disregard them? Are unpaid internships distorting young people’s ideas about the value of their labour? What can be done to help interns understand why the fight for fair wages is so important?