Over a hundred campaigners assembled outside Parliament on Wednesday to protest against unpaid internships.
The protest, a joint venture between the NUS, Intern Aware and Internocracy, coincided with the launch of the Parliamentary Placement Scheme. The programme, spearheaded by Hazel Blears, will introduce a living wage for twelve recruits, who will work for the entire parliamentary session.
The interns will be paid £8.30 an hour, at an estimated cost of £175,000 for the first year. £25,000 of this will come from the Commons and the rest is hoped to be sourced from private sponsors.
Commenting on the scheme, Blears said, “The idea is that it’ll be a bit like a Rhodes scholar, something really prestigious”.
Ben Lyons, a finalist at St Catz and co-director of Intern Aware, said, “Hazel Blears’s scheme is excellent because it is cross-party and caters for people across the country. It’s a great first step but it doesn’t solve the problem – there’s still a lot to do.
“The scheme is only for twelve people, but there are about 450 interns in Parliament at any one time, most of whom are unpaid. People who are bright and capable are being denied careers because they can’t work for free.”
The campaigners took the opportunity of the protest to unveil an ‘Intern Bill of Rights’, which demands for interns “the same legal protections as all other workers” and “transparent and non-discriminatory” recruitment.
NUS Vice-President (Society and Citizenship), Susan Nash, said, “If MPs are not willing to treat interns as they do all other workers they cannot expect other industries to follow suit. Being an intern is not like work experience, it involves hard-work and long hours.”
The renewed campaign follows other action by Intern Aware, who last year questioned the legality of twenty-two MPs and one Lord advertising unpaid positions and in April exposed Nick Clegg’s non-payment of his own interns.
Lyons told Cherwell, “There are about 18,000 hours of unpaid work done every week in Parliament.
“The word ‘intern’ has no legal value and most interns are in a legal sense ‘workers’, because they have set tasks and set hours. Employers who refuse to pay their interns are likely to be breaking the law.”
Nick Clegg recently pledged to end Westminster’s culture of privilege and start paying Lib Dem interns. However at the moment MPs and Liberal Democrat Head Office are still advertising for unpaid interns.