If it looks like a job, feels like job, but pays no wage – it’s an internship!
Some commonly asked questions:
1. What is the difference between a volunteer and an intern?
There are many kinds of volunteers including: trustees, people promoting the charities at festivals and events, those wanting to donate a small amount of time to a cause they support etc. Our concern at No Pay No Way is with in-office volunteers who work at charities and NGOs on a regular basis, either part-, or full-time. Some charities/NGOs call them interns, others call them volunteers. We argue that there are two key differences to distinguish between a volunteer and an intern: the stage of the career the individual is at, the roles they carry out and the amount of time they have to commit to the charity/NGO.
An intern is: someone who works regularly within the offices of a charity/NGO with the ultimate goal of gaining paid employment, and who carries out work that would otherwise have to be done by a paid member of staff.
The World Development Movement defines an internship as a ‘programme of un-paid work that will help to provide experience for those who eventually want to achieve work in the NGO sector’. Interns are typically graduates who are looking for work, and usually work between 3-5 days a week for between 3-6 months.
A volunteer is: someone without career intentions (i.e. working already or retired) who wants to volunteer their time to a cause they particularly identify with. Volunteers often commit to a small amount of time to working on a specific task or project that they have chosen.
Interns are workers, who put in considerable hours of work that benefit the organisation.
2. Aren’t unpaid internships illegal?
Most unpaid internships are illegal in the UK because they breach minimum wage legislation, but charities use a loophole in the law that enables them to avoid paying interns through calling them ‘voluntary workers’. As we have argued above there is a key difference between voluntary workers and interns – but a difference that the majority of charities ignore.
3. How common are internships in the charity sector?
Although there are no real figures about the number of internships, internships have become the norm through the charity sector. The blurriness of the terms volunteering and interning make things even harder to research, but a few figures help to get a general idea:
According to the Charity Commission there were 2,588,847 volunteers working for UK charities in the last year.
On Charityjobs.co.uk, the main website for advertised jobs in the charity sector, there are usually around 800 unpaid internships and only up to 7 paid internships on any given day! A category for entry level positions does not even exist.
4. But don’t internships offer good experience for young people?
Internships have increasingly replaced paid training programmes and entry-level positions in the charity sector. However, young people are facing the worst employment prospects for decades. They deserve to be paid for the work they do.
Additionally, not only do internships exploit the interns themselves, but they also function to exclude those that can’t afford to work for free in the charity sector for considerable periods of time. Most young people simply don’t have the luxury of interning, and this unfortunately ensures that employment in the charity sector remains the preserve of the privileged.
5. Do any charities/NGOs pay their interns/in-office volunteers?
Yes, there are a few good practices within the sector. People and Planet have up to ten paid internships every year paying the Oxford Living Wage. Some charities like War on Want and The Jubilee Debt Campaign have stopped having in-office volunteers/interns but have no paid internship programme either nor entry-level positions. In fact, after several years of taking advantage of unpaid labour, War on Want recently abolished this socially corrosive practice on 5th September 2012. However, this is solely attributable to the pressure mounted by what came to be the last unpaid interns. Despite the end of unpaid interns at War on Want and the Jubilee Debt Campaign they are still failing to train the next generation of charity sector workers by not providing entry level positions or paid internships etc.
6. So, internships are bad, but what if charities can’t afford to pay?
We don’t want charities and NGOs to simply stop offering internships. We want them to pay interns to ensure that they become an option for all young people who want to begin a career in the sector. We know that budgets for many charities and NGOs are becoming tighter but using unpaid labour to cut costs should not be an option.
Many tiny organisations are justifiably volunteer-led or rely on the work of committed volunteers to function, often having just one or two members of staff. But others, particularly larger organisations, have stopped offering paid entry-level positions and instead replaced them with unpaid internships. This is despite huge revenues and top level salaries of some charity sector employees. For example, last year Oxfam had an income of over £365 million, and the director, Barbara Stocking, took home more than £100,000. Oxfam advertises for numerous internships but doesn’t offer a single penny’s wage.
Charities have a duty, and indeed a vested interest, in training up the young people that want to work in the sector, but they need to pay them instead of exploit them.