The legal loophole for exploitative labour is expanding at an exponential rate.
Remember the days when we used to work for money? Well welcome to the world where you work for experience in the hope that one day you’ll be lucky enough to work for money. That’s the bleak reality for many young people in Ireland today faced with little option beyond unpaid internships, emigration or unemployment.
You’d be justified in thinking such a pernicious phenomenon as not paying people for work must have caused quite a stir. Well guess what? You’re dead wrong. Unpaid internships have nonchalantly become the norm while crowds in the colosseum of public opinion fervently cheer the corporate lion as she devours the young and spoiled, smartphone generation.
Rare does a week go by without the media letting off some steam on the Avo-toast munching, millennial punching bag as the cold hard facts and figures of rent prices, extortionate mortgage rates and looming student loans are quickly dispelled by a story that a twenty-two-year-old spent 3 euro on coffee! Argument Won!
Yet with new CSO figures revealing that 500 graduates a week are leaving the country, those who were bowing to cranes and rejoicing “recovery” have been left puzzled and scratching their head. It’s not difficult to see why people who wear suits and work in Grand Canal Dock are questioning why the whining, spoilt brats are flocking in their droves.
Unpaid work is still a heavily sector-specific problem. If you want to work in a bank or corporate law firm – the moral gatekeepers of society- you can still expect to be paid handsomely. But look to the arts, academia, public health or journalism and you’ll see the vital organs of our society collapsing around us. Is there any long-term plan for their survival? For a country which prides itself on producing some of the worlds most acclaimed artists and musicians’, we seem awfully content with a bland, spreadsheet future of tech and finance.
Creative jobs are rare, generally located in Dublin and nine times out of ten contingent on previous experience. If anyone can explain to me how a young person is expected to work for free in Dublin for six months with its stomach churning rent and transport costs, please let me know.
Ivanka Trump recently gave it a go when she published a piece online entitled “how to make it work as an unpaid intern” with some brilliant advice on how to get by working for free with your measly billion dollar bank account.
Ivanka epitomizes the classist, exclusivity of unpaid internships. “What’s the big deal just live off money from your parents?” and if the poor people really want to work in film or graphic design they can slog it out as a kitchen porter for two years, save up and get the reward of working for free in Dublin for a few months.
The argument often rolled out to justify the current dynamic is that companies simply cannot afford to pay young people and the wage of “work experience” is the best they can offer. The last time I checked non-payment for work wasn’t an option on the table for businesses and we hadn’t (yet) amended the minimum wage laws to exempt young people. But spend thirty seconds skimming Linkedin’s list of graduate entry jobs and you’ll quickly see unpaid six, even nine month “internships” being offered at an alarming rate.
The minimum wage exists for a reason. It’s not just for show. It’s to protect people from the very exploitation and systemic greed which unpaid internships are capitalizing upon through peoples’ desperation for work.
The youth unemployment rate in the EU may be decreasing but non-standard forms of employment are rising exponentially. Unpaid and unregulated internships are replacing entry-level jobs and the app economy is luring people into insecure, zero-hour contracts.
If businesses genuinely can’t afford to pay their interns the minimum wage then they are either not commercially viable enterprises or illegally and systematically breaking society’s most basic and fundamental bargain.