Jude D’Alesio is a 20-year old councillor, serving on Long Ashton Parish Council in North Somerset, and a Law student at the University of Bristol.
I am one of those rare oxymorons: a young Conservative. Sadly, we seem to be few and far between nowadays. But there are plenty of reasons why I will not pander to the majority of my peers. I could bore you with the well-rehearsed arguments about low taxes, responsible fiscal management, and equality of opportunity. But Labour’s new ‘Employment Rights’ Green Paper seems to encapsulate my feelings nicely.
This document was announced recently by none other than Angela Rayner, and amid the many vacuous statements was this promise:
“Labour will ban unpaid internships except when they are part of an education or training course.”
Frankly, this infuriates me. I am currently a Law student due to embark on a legal career after university and I can confidently say that I would not be in this position were it not for unpaid internships.
This is yet another misguided policy, recycled from the Corbyn era, which is detrimental to undergraduate students, particularly those seeking to gain valuable, and in most cases necessary, experience before entering the workforce.
Firstly, it is unclear if there is even a prevalence of unpaid internships. The Progressive Policy Think Tank estimates that only 20 per cent of internships are unpaid. Moreover, a survey by the organisation Prospects found that only ten per cent of respondents prioritised payment as the most important decision-making factor when choosing an internship.
If youngsters themselves do not perceive there to be a problem, then why is Labour proposing this measure, wasting valuable government time and public money in doing so?
Secondly, the obvious impact of forcing firms to offer paid work experience will be a reduction in the number of internships supplied to students. 60 per cent of interns are hired in organisations with fewer than 24 employees according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, so Labour’s plan may not affect the number of internships at large multinationals but it would certainly be a death knell for work experience at small businesses who would struggle to afford Labour’s £10 minimum wage (another policy advocated in their green paper). Jeremy Corbyn even recently called for a £15 minimum wage, but we’ll save that argument for another day.
Ironically, this might have a good chance of achieving Labour’s goal of maximising employment rights, as erecting barriers to internships will eliminate the employment opportunities altogether.
The issue is that they have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of an internship: from my experience, the days of photocopying and making coffee in a seedy office are over. Rather, I found that firms will go out of their way to find work from which interns can learn the most.
In other words, this was an opportunity to learn as opposed to slaving away at any other job. When I wanted to earn an extra buck, I worked as a waiter or a care assistant where I could at least earn minimum wage. Schools don’t pay their pupils to come and learn in the classroom, so why should businesses be forced to pay the interns who have come to learn practical skills on the job?
I’m no businessman, but I highly doubt that company directors are sitting around a table saying: “Let’s be malicious and not pay our interns”, followed by evil laughter. Rather, they probably say: “Well, we would love to pay our interns but times are hard and we cannot do so. But, we would hate to not offer the experience, so let’s say that whoever wants to work for free can do so.”
Finally, the statement in the Green Paper has as much clarity as Keir Starmer’s COVID response. For example, what counts as an ‘internship’? Are we talking a week’s work experience, or 12 weeks during a summer holiday? Must it be full-time or part-time?
This may seem trivial but it’s crucial: I once happily worked a summer job to save enough money to do a short internship, an option I prefer far more than not doing an internship at all. However, with longer three-month internships I cannot say that I have even seen these advertised as unpaid, and if they were, then a PR nightmare probably deters business from making them unpaid anyway.
Ultimately, this policy seeks to achieve ‘equality’ by pulling others down. The image of a company potentially being sued for providing learning opportunities for young people sickens me, and Labour should realise that not all under-25s are diehard trade unionists.
While such rhetoric from Starmer rhetoric will shore up support from trade unions, his employment policies will evidently come at the expense of valuable learning opportunities for young people, and we should expect better from our opposition.
That Labour view this policy as a vote-winner with the youth, when the biggest concern of many young women is their public safety, is yet another reason why I won’t become a young socialist comrade anytime soon. My advice to any youngsters reading this is to take any opportunity you can get your hands on, paid or unpaid.
What is clear, however, is that I need probably to find better uses of my time than reading Labour policy documents…