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Unpaid Internships Are Here To Stay

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Ah, the unpaid internship: scourge of the fairness and equality in the graduate recruitment market, a manipulative abuse of desperate jobseekers in what is very much an employers' market

Ah, the unpaid internship: scourge of the fairness and equality in the graduate recruitment market, a manipulative abuse of desperate jobseekers in what is very much an employers' market. And yet most of us, if it were financially feasible, would take one in a competitive industry at the drop of a hat.

This week Arcadia, the retail mega-chain owned by billionaire Sir Phillip Green announced that it will remunerate scores of previously unpaid interns to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, for their work at Miss Selfridge stores. More broadly, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has announced that it has managed to pin the fashion industry down on the agreement that henceforth all over-21s will earn at the very least £6.08. That is, they are guaranteed the minimum wage.

That in itself is a significant victory for those who have campaigned against unpaid labour. Cynics, though, would say that whilst a battle has been won, the war has not. They are correct. Beyond one-off deals the like of which we have seen in the fashion industry, there is little chance of government intervention to ensure a fair deal for students with their eye on an extended stint at a big name company.

It is also true that if we demand that all companies pay good money for their interns, they simply wont take them on - which is good news for nobody. In short, unpaid internships are here to stay.

We know that in a great many cases interning means little more than doing the jobs that salaried or waged counterparts don't want to do. But we know also that the appearance of this sort of experience on a CV can be worth its weight in gold. Unpaid internships are deeply unfair, of course; for a start they naturally attract those with the financial backing from the bank of Mum and Dad to help them through months which see a lot going out, but not a lot coming in. But they remain a necessity for many.

The good news, then, is that a small step towards the fair payment of interns - and thus towards a fairer jobs market - has been achieved. The bad news, though, is that there is still a long way to go. Don't give up on the prospect of a paid internship, but don't go holding your breath either.

Tom N, GRB Journalist

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