Unpaid internships mean only the wealthy have to apply: that’s why you don’t see many working-class judges
Over 30 years ago, I interned at a small publication.
I don’t know if the experience did me much good, but it didn’t hurt me at all. I had to write some reports. The guy in charge showed me how he edits them. I was able to use the personal computer then still new. And I made a lot of tea and coffee.
I don’t remember if I got paid, but it didn’t really matter. I didn’t really need the money. I don’t remember how I got the placement — but given that my father was a high-ranking minister at the time, I can imagine it wasn’t too difficult for me to gain experience in work where I wanted.
We now call them internships – not work experience – and they have become much more common. Indeed, they are almost a rite of passage in some industries.
In the media, law, arts and charity sector, unpaid internships – where someone can work more than 30 hours a week for months, doing real work – are frequently advertised on job boards .
At least those have been announced. Nearly two-thirds of people responding to a monthly survey Sunday Independent poll taken earlier this year thought that “to progress in Ireland, you need to know more about who you know than what you know”.
Many internships are likely secured through connections – and there are reports of “exclusive” unpaid internships in the US, where wealthy parents pay companies to hire their children, giving them access to networks and experience. to get them started in hard-to-break businesses. – in industries.
This need for experience contributes to the inflation of qualifications which is evident everywhere. At some point, people could expect to find a job with a satisfactory Leaving Cert. Then an undergraduate degree became a requirement. And then to signal that you were better than the others with undergraduate degrees, a master’s degree became de rigueur. But just a master’s without professional experience?
And so, unpaid work experience became the way to go for many, en route to the first “real” job.
But this is not completely new. In law, a newly qualified lawyer is required to “devil” for a more experienced lawyer – his “master” – who usually does not pay him, although in fairness he does bear some expenses.
So what? Well, it’s a problem if the only people who can afford to be a lawyer are those who can support themselves on almost no income for a year.
Not many people can do this, so it’s not uncommon for law to be a middle-class dominated profession, and we’re seeing this bias continue over time.
Why don’t we have judges from popular backgrounds? It’s very difficult for someone from this background to make it to the bar – let alone survive the first year of shortage.
It’s also important because unpaid internships are used by some employers to simply get free labor, preventing others from getting that job.
That’s why Senator Marie Sherlock of the Labor Party introduced a bill to ban unpaid internships.
It’s reasonably limited in some ways, so it’s only for those who work more than 30 hours a week for more than four weeks. Volunteering at your local charity shop will not be affected, for example. It also won’t stop someone from helping out in a family business.
In fact, it probably won’t make much of a difference in the short term, since it’s not a big deal right now. The tight labor market means that prospective employees are able to demand more than they would have dreamed of a few years ago.
But it won’t last forever. When employment is not so plentiful, many people starting out may be forced to return to work for free to gain experience on the paid work ladder.
The government does not oppose the bill, but it says the bill is unnecessary.
Damien English, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Trade and Employment, told Seanad last week that such placements are already covered by the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. But if so, there has been widespread violation of the Act — even by the state.
In the past, public bodies advertised unpaid positions, such as the HSE, which advertised psychologists to work with refugees and asylum seekers on a voluntary basis.
The HSE was embarrassed to withdraw them, but it shows that even organizations with budgets measured in the tens of billions are willing to do so.
This work should be paid work – not minimum wage. By allowing it to become volunteer work, we are displacing real jobs for people who should be advancing in their careers.
The fear is that this legislation will mean fewer opportunities for internships that provide real training, rather than just providing cheap labour. It could happen. The government should probably take ownership of the legislation and consider any anomalies.
And he won’t be able to do anything about informal arrangements, where those of us with good connections can seek out and find positions for our children to help them through life. But at least this bill is a good start to give others a chance.
Eoin O’Malley teaches politics and politics at Dublin City University