Unpaid internships are an unjust way of separating those who can afford to work for free and those who need to pay rent. They should not be legal and offer an unfair advantage to those who can live above their means for an uncertain period of time.
Many people can afford to go a few months surviving off little or no income, especially if they live at home and have kind parents who don’t charge rent. Even for those who don’t live at home, many parents still contribute to rent and other expenses. However, this is only one portion of the student population.
Around 84,000 students each year receive some sort of SUSI grant out of the 225,000 students in higher education in Ireland, meaning roughly one third of students receive a SUSI grant.
A lot of people in college survive on grants, part-time jobs and other odd bits of income. Many are living from pay check to pay check and have a small amount of savings in the bank, due to the high cost of living in Dublin, with only some left over for pints at the end.
Pharmacy students recently held a protest outside Leinster House to remove the ban on paid internships required as part of their degree. The ban was subsequently removed which is wonderful for these students, especially considering recent fee increases for the final year of their degree.
However, unpaid internships continue to be the norm in many fields including humanities. Students are told to work for free for exposure and to get their foot in the door, which is all well and good for those who can afford to do so.
To not subsidise interns in any way and not pay at least minimum wage is creating a workforce full of people who can afford to work for free. Middle and upper class students get the leg up by doing the free grunt work while those who can’t afford this get left behind.
To expect students in any degree to work full-time for little or no pay while also working part-time to afford this luxury is obscene. Success stories of people from lower or working class backgrounds working hard to rise to prominence are inspiring and riveting. However, they are generally few and far between.
Far more common are the stories of people who worked hard to climb the ladder while also having their parents’ money as a backup support system. They could focus all their energy on the job instead of affording food and rent.
It should not be the norm to work seven days a week full-time in various jobs just to stay afloat while on an internship as part of a college degree. Unfortunately, this is the case for many students. Third level institutions should stand up to employers and work to get basic human rights for their students.
No student should enter a degree with the preconception that they must work for free for a significant portion of their entry into the workforce. It is an unsustainable system and one that will lead to a burned out and passionless workforce.
Image credit: Sabrine Donohoe