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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 August 2010

Decent pay for interns

The release of the report 'Why interns need a fair wage' by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank has received much media attention.

Matt Dobson

On behalf of YFJ I was asked to explain our views on internships in debates with speakers from the Federation of Small Businesses on BBC Radio 5 - Live and the World Service.

I explained that young people's aspirations to take up internships as a pathway to an exciting career can be opportunistically used by big business to profit from their free or cheap labour without any real intention of offering employment.

We welcomed the IPPR report because it raised the issue of interns being exploited but explained that more should have been demanded from employers and the government.

In some areas the report gives employers the benefit of the doubt by hinting that bosses are simply "unaware" that they are breaking the law by not paying interns.

Its vague proposals have meant that David Willetts, Tory education minister, welcomed its publication and claimed that the government will introduce more internships for young people.

Internships could be used by the government to force unemployed young people off benefits into "voluntary" public services to replace experienced public sector workers who have lost their jobs in the cuts onslaught.

The IPPR report calls for interns to be paid the adult minimum wage of 5.80.

But as the report states, its own interns earn the London Living Wage of 7.60 an hour and have rights to holiday and sick pay.

YFJ demands that all interns are paid a wage that covers living and travel expenses. In expensive areas, such as the South East, this should be at least 10 an hour.

In a trade union-organised workplace for example, the negotiated rate may be higher and an intern doing the same work as a permanent worker should also receive this rate.

Interns should have real contracts as well as the opportunity to join and be active in a trade union.

The IPPR calls for trade unions to take up "test cases" of exploited interns at employment tribunals. But the role of trade unions in protecting and fighting for the rights and improved conditions of interns will have to go further than this.

They will need to organise interns with all sections of the workforce to fight back against cuts. Two of YFJ's trade union supporters, Unite and BECTU, are already campaigning for this to happen.

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In The Socialist 18 August 2010:

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