Unpaid Internships

Nowadays, we hear more often than not that internships are the only way to break into the creative industry for the majority of art students and graduates.  If you are looking for an internship, it wouldn’t take you long to realise that unfortunately there aren’t many paid positions available. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a few key facts about unpaid internships:

  • If you have been given set hours to work and are expected to take on specific tasks, then you are doing the work of a paid employee therefore should be considered as a worker.
  • Any worker within the UK is entitled to (at least) the national minimum wage (currently £6.19/h for over 21s)
  • Even if you have signed a contract saying you are happy to work for free, you are still eligible for the minimum wage.
  • You can take legal action against an employer who refuses to pay you. The recent case of a Sony intern is a good case.

Why are we against Unpaid Internships?

Not everyone can afford to work for free. It is as simple as that. Some employers argue that a lot of interns are happy to work for free to gain experience as it helps their CV and teaches them skills not learnt at university. However, if we accept this claim the individuals who aren’t happy and/or cannot afford to work for free would never become an intern and subsequently wouldn’t have experience to progress to paid positions. By closing our eyes to this issue we are refusing artists from disadvantaged backgrounds to progress with their career in the arts. In my view, elitism in art is the death of creativity- I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say this.

As we all now know, hiring unpaid interns and using them as free labour is illegal but unfortunately due to a lack of supervision by the government and the fear of complaining by interns, this is a practice that is growing exponentially. I believe that the best we can do is to be aware of what we are entitled to and try to make it loud and clear when an organisation, company or individual doesn’t comply by these guidelines. It has been proven that the majority of whom exploit young artists, care more about their public image than anything else.


Mostafa Rajaai

Culture and Diversity Officer, SUArts

One comment

  1. Anon

    I totally agree that more paid internships should be available to students.

    I was just wondering on the wording of the regulations; if there are no set hours but only set tasks, is it still a legal requirement to receive the minimum wage?

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