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January 16, 2012 4:01 AM   Subscribe

The debate about whether young people should expect to 'intern' or work for free - and what this means in terms of who* gets into these industries - has been raging for years, but for unemployed people in Britain, this kind of labour no longer just means trying to enter into competitive or media-driven industries. An unemployed graduate, having been sent to work for Poundland without needing the experience nor being offered the job, is seeking a judicial review against the regulations that require many receiving unemployment benefit to work, unpaid, for large corporations.

* original article is sadly paywalled, but you get the gist.

The Mail link Cait mentions in her article is here, but you can probably write it yourself at this point.
posted by mippy (66 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's pretty astonishing. I'm a little surprised that we didn't do it in the US first, though.

I hope they get these laws overturned; the fact that they're being used to provide free labor to massively profitable corporations is just absolutely fucked.
posted by barnacles at 4:10 AM on January 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, and judicial review in UK terms
posted by mippy at 4:11 AM on January 16, 2012


Under the scheme, there is no guarantee of a job, only an interview. Multiple jobseekers can work in one store at the same time, cleaning or stacking shelves and competing against each other for a potential offer of paid work.

This has a certain horrible Dickensian feel to it. I guess the Gilded Age is really back. Next, workhouses!
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:28 AM on January 16, 2012 [25 favorites]


Is this the follow-up to the story I swear I read on the blue not two months ago?
posted by hat_eater at 4:41 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anecdotal since I don't live in Italy, but have a few friends who do (they're Italian) – this happens there as well. One of the Italians I know, from Genoa, went so far as to cross the border here into France since she knew that as a recent graduate, she had a choice between working several years in Italy with no or little pay as an "intern", or getting an internship (paid) in France and actually having a full-time, salaried job afterwards. (She was in fact hired permanently.)

People joke and tease about how often the French go on strike, well, one of the reasons they striked in the recent past was due to abuse of unpaid internships. And so laws were passed that tightened it up. It's not perfect, but it is better now. Of course, we also have strong workers' unions that have not been defanged and likely never will be, considering how vocal they are, and how good they are at supporting workers who aren't necessarily union members.
posted by fraula at 4:43 AM on January 16, 2012 [15 favorites]


Ah, here it is.
posted by hat_eater at 4:46 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


hat_eater, your searching ability is better than mine. I knew it had rung a bell. Thanks for the update mippy.
posted by arcticseal at 4:48 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I give it a year - maybe two - before work experience also begins to include domestic workers for the 1%.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:53 AM on January 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


I expected criticism, but some of the comments about me have been hurtful as well as inaccurate. Jan Moir's attack in the Daily Mail, for example, overlooked the fact that I was not paid for the work I carried out and implied that I believed such work, as well as Poundland itself, to be beneath me. This is not the case – I would grab a paid job in Poundland with both hands. Similarly, Vanessa Feltz attempted to humiliate me on the radio. Such coverage has made taking a stand more difficult than I had imagined.

Jan Moir and Vanessa Feltz? You were honored.
posted by Jehan at 5:04 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The really scary thing about this is that she was already volunteering in a museum, unpaid, for work experience.

This is about as close as the UK government can come to outright saying that jobs in cultural institutions and other places that actually use university degrees are reserved for those whose parents can support them through training. If your parents can't support you, then you are required to give up on anything but Poundland - doing unpaid work in any higher-qualification profession, even one for which you are qualified and in which you hope to seek employment, is not for you. It's only for those whose families can afford to pay their living expenses.
posted by Wylla at 5:07 AM on January 16, 2012 [20 favorites]


All civilized countries should simply outlaw unpaid internships outright, minimum wage should mean minimum wage, period.

Internships required by university curricula makes sense, but they should be paid minimum wage like anybody else. If your university cannot find minimum wage internships, then probably you should not be offering that particular degree program.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:07 AM on January 16, 2012 [43 favorites]


I've been in a similar situation - unemployed, 'overqualified' for work that didn't require a degree, and told that any work experience I organised would render me 'unable for paid work' and therefore ineligible for benefits. Which, incidentally, are not quite enough to keep one in food, particularly if you live in a more expensive area. (I was told that I would only get £395 a month in housing benefit, as that was the 'market rate' - the small room I rented was £500, and even if I could have found somewhere cheaper, I did not have a deposit or anything else needed to move because I WAS ON THE DOLE.)

In the last recession, which hit the north-west in '93, my dad took a job in an all-night garage as there were no positions at the time in his actual career (he was an architect). It's the narrative of 'graduate thinks she's too good for shop work' which is pretty poisonous, and feeds into the idea that all unemployed people are lazy folk who would rather watch telly and get money from the government. A myth that's good friends with its cousin, 'there are no jobs because all the foreign people come over and they are prepared to work for under minimum wage'. Both of which aren't the fault of the jobseeker or the employee.
posted by mippy at 5:09 AM on January 16, 2012 [17 favorites]


Internships required by university curricula makes sense

I graduated nearly ten years ago now - as 'internships' are a new thing in the UK (it just used to be 'work experience', which was still unpaid but didn't pretend it was a job such as the 'receptionist intern' and 'secretarial intern' positions one sees advertised now) is this something degree courses now require? As in, not just to make your path into post-graduate study easier, but to actually complete the course?
posted by mippy at 5:12 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


From what I've read internships in the US are supposed to be a burden on an employer. You are giving someone one the job training and making resources (in terms of time with employees, hopefully some payment etc etc ) available to them in the hopes that of the X interns you take in every year, Y will be someone you want to hire.

In reality internships tend to be little more than unpaid labour and everyone is turning a blind eye to it.
posted by PenDevil at 5:19 AM on January 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm about to start something similar to this scheme in Ireland, although it's aimed primarily at graduates and at least involves a €50 increase in welfare payments (so it's not technically 'unpaid', I guess). Of course, there's nothing stopping them from ignoring my degree and offering me an internship at a supermarket - rather than, you know, something that will actually help me start a career.
posted by anaximander at 5:34 AM on January 16, 2012


*In reality internships tend to be little more than unpaid labour and everyone is turning a blind eye to it.*

Yup. It's the idea that people aren't spat out by the school system with exactly the skill set your company needs (including software native only to your internal system) so you deserve free labour until they're up to the quality of people who've worked there for years. Who you'll cheerfully lay off if it appeals to the profits this year because hey, everyone's a free agent in the market, right?
posted by Phalene at 5:36 AM on January 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Whatever the arguments for and against internships elsewhere, in no reasonable economy is an internship at somewhere like Poundland needful for either the employer or the employee.
posted by Jehan at 5:38 AM on January 16, 2012


I'll say what I said last time - why the hell would anyone submit to this, to go and actually put effort in? I would be the shittiest stockboy that my slaveowners ever saw... I would destroy value so quickly that they would be begging me to leave within the first hour.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:42 AM on January 16, 2012


Cait Reilly, 22, is completing three weeks at Poundland, working five hours a day. Reilly, who graduated last year with a BSc in geology from Birmingham University, found herself with five other JSA claimants last week stacking and cleaning shelves at Poundland in south Birmingham.

She says there are about 15 other staff at the store but, unlike them, she will receive no remuneration for her work. "It seems we're being used as some free labour, especially in the runup to Christmas."


Cait: feign extreme sloth and carelessness. Drop everything that is put into your hands. Wander the aisles staring at and freaking out customers. "Let me help you, I work here!" Shout it loudly! Bump into the endcaps, send the cans sailing. When ordered to clean them up, fall limp into the pile, roll around on the floor. Drool a little. Fart loudly, near other people. Pick your nose.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:46 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I graduated nearly ten years ago now - as 'internships' are a new thing in the UK (it just used to be 'work experience', which was still unpaid but didn't pretend it was a job such as the 'receptionist intern' and 'secretarial intern' positions one sees advertised now)

In the U.S an internship is intended to be a thing where you just go and watch people work, and participate in activities, I guess. It's supposed to be primarily a learning experience. There is massive abuse of the system and lots of people offer 'internships' to people who are not actually students. Free labor, essentially.

Anyway, in the absence of fiscal stimulus to fix the economy, Britain needs deflation, meaning lower wages. But that's difficult to achieve when people aren't willing to take work that doesn't pay what they expect, and existing workers, of course, are not going to take salary cuts.

So actually, while it seems like this is a terrible idea - it will drive down wages and make it more difficult for people to get 'real' jobs, if you think about it that's the point reducing the amount of money people make per unit of 'productivity' is what the Austerity promoters need for their economic policies to bear fruit.
posted by delmoi at 5:50 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyway, in the absence of fiscal stimulus to fix the economy, Britain needs deflation, meaning lower wages. But that's difficult to achieve when people aren't willing to take work that doesn't pay what they expect, and existing workers, of course, are not going to take salary cuts.

Salaries are being cut, in real terms. (a 3% pay cut on average for UK workers in 2011). And more than that where I work.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 6:18 AM on January 16, 2012


Ultimately, labor is always a buyer's market. While boom times may, for some industries, create lots of perks (free sodas during the dot-com boom), overall, the power rests with the employers. Companies, in an effort to "maximize shareholder value," will do everything they can to eek out additional units of work for every dollar spent. Naturally, unpaid internships and an ever-increasing definition of "exempt" employee are symptoms of this. So are left-handed "perks" such as on-site laundry ("see--you don't ever have to leave the office").

I think about this every time someone speaks about the need for reduced regulation or anti-union: there are only so many ways a worker can get leverage in such dealings. I recognize such things are rife with their own set of problems, but there has to be some counter-balance.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:30 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is always lower wages that are needed, and never lower profits?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:31 AM on January 16, 2012 [39 favorites]


I graduated back when internships were rare, though I have used volunteering as a way to get my foot in the door. When I meet youngish people from Europe, though, they talk about internships as a more formalized and expected thing than I have seen here in the US, where except at large companies internships are often quite ad hoc.

The version presented in this FPP sounds Dickensian, as was mentioned. If I was forced into that position, I'd be torn between wanting to be Meatbomb's saboteur and afraid that I'd lose whatever small benefit I was getting, and that's a shitty choice to be locked into.
posted by Forktine at 6:38 AM on January 16, 2012


Why is always lower wages that are needed, and never lower profits?

Benny Andajetz, that is incredibly naive. If you are employed, please explain why you haven't asked your employer to drop your wages yet, before posting again.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:42 AM on January 16, 2012


Benny Andajetz, that is incredibly naive. If you are employed, please explain why you haven't asked your employer to drop your wages yet, before posting again.

Not naive. Sarcastic.

That this is even a topic of discussion in the 21st century is ridiculous. The normal state of workers is, and always has been, fucked. Either the rights of workers will be respected, or they won't. And if the decision is left in the hands of employers, nothing will ever change.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:47 AM on January 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


To elaborate on my profits comment:

A while back we had a thread about a fish processing company that lost all their employees due to new regulations on illegal aliens. The owner said that he couldn't afford to pay more than minimum wage with no benefits (even though they processed millions of pounds of fish) because, by the time all the middlemen stepped on the fish, the end product would be too expensive to sell.

So, the middlemen are entitled to whatever profit they want, but the workers aren't? Kinda fucked up, no?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:00 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not really as simple as "require them to pay the minimum wage".  Competitive industries are competitive for a reason: there's something about them (potential earnings, creative freedom, social good) that appeals to many young people.  And because they're so competitive, few companies are going to be able to justify being a learning experience for a college kid at minimum wage, when the alternative is someone more experienced who's also going to be paid at or near minimum wage.

It's yet another tragedy of the commons, at which the free market predictably fails.  The entire industry (whatever industry it is) needs trained people with experience, but no one feels they have the ability or responsibility to provide that training or experience themselves.  And I sympathize, because many people I've worked with have actually been a drain on my own work while getting little done for themselves... they'd be costing the company money even if they did work for free.  Note that the preceding sentence doesn't apply exclusively to interns, sadly.

Anyway, so the solution isn't minimum wage.  It's subsidies to on-the-job training/internship programs, with strict regulation to make sure the kids are being trained to do more than retrieve coffee.  The intern needs to be paid enough to live in non-poverty, and the company needs to offset the costs of senior staff becoming mentors when they could be doing their own work.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:08 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ah. The sarcasm tag is still needed... until then, some voluntary flagging is always good.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:10 AM on January 16, 2012


" Why is always lower wages that are needed, and never lower profits?"

Because the gears of capitalism are oiled with the blood of the workers?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:10 AM on January 16, 2012 [15 favorites]


"Cait: feign extreme sloth and carelessness. Drop everything that is put into your hands."

I experienced bad service - well, just disinterested service really - from a major high-street store last week. (As far as I know, this isn't one of the ones which are participating in this scheme.) The young woman who served me treated me with a disdain that I haven't seen since a teacher forced me to work with a school bully in high school. I've had similarly bad service from the same company's online arm - they sent a liquid product in a padded envelope, it arrived predictably broken, and they were not particularly bothered about the irritated customer left without their birthday present. Given the low expectations consumers have for discount retailers, maybe we wouldn't notice?

Many supermarkets are putting in self-service checkouts, so the customer has to scan their own groceries (we bag our own over here). And the argument is that they may be putting people out of work.
posted by mippy at 7:20 AM on January 16, 2012


Cait: feign extreme sloth and carelessness. Drop everything that is put into your hands. Wander the aisles staring at and freaking out customers. "Let me help you, I work here!" Shout it loudly! Bump into the endcaps, send the cans sailing. When ordered to clean them up, fall limp into the pile, roll around on the floor. Drool a little. Fart loudly, near other people. Pick your nose.

Poundland reports back to the JobCentre that she was doing this, and she loses her unemployment benefit (jobseekers allowance) for a period.

She wasn't *strictly* speaking, unpaid - she was 'paid' with her unemployment benefit while working there. It's been a fairly long standing thing that people are required to take up reasonable offers of employment or do some job skill training in order to still qualify for jobseekers over time. However, requiring people to do weeks or months of 'training' that consists of no training but doing normal low-skilled work for free in a crappy job - effectively subsidising said stores with free labour - work that normally would be done by part-time workers is bang out of order.

I did my own couple of years part-time in Sainsbury's stacking shelves and rescuing trollies from the local housing estate when I was younger - it's not exactly great work, but it paid for my driving lessons and first crappy car. That companies like that can now just count on a steady supply of jobseekers doing unskilled work for free is entirely counter-productive and a straight up subsidy using enforced labour.

Making people look for work as a condition for unemployment benefit isn't a bad idea; offering real training where people learn real new skills that makes them more likely to find a job as an alternative - especially if that training is in a company, at the company's cost, is substantive, and there's a potential for an actual job at the end of it - isn't a bad idea either.

They way this is being implemented now though is insulting to jobseekers, damaging to other people who would normally be paid to do that work (part-timers, overtime) and completely harmful to the idea of actual skills training. I hope Cait Reilly is successful and gets this practise stopped entirely.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:20 AM on January 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


she was 'paid' with her unemployment benefit while working there

But she wasn't really, as she was paid considerably less than a standard worker, and below the minimum wage. Can't remember where I read it, but I did hear about one person being refused time away from these 'placements' to attend interview. If the work is there, why aren't they giving it to people who need the experience in retail as well as the work? It's not at all the same as an 'overqualified' person taking a job in a supermarket to feed themselves or just make extra money. And there are many school-leavers who would want to work in retail for reasons other than just paying the rent.
posted by mippy at 7:24 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Poundland reports back to the JobCentre that she was doing this, and she loses her unemployment benefit (jobseekers allowance) for a period.

Can anyone back this up? I don't get my UI because it turns out I am a shitty retail worker? Sounds like an excellent lawsuit waiting to happen.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:28 AM on January 16, 2012


Oh I agree entirely that the work should be going to people who actually want to do it and get paid a real wage instead of the jobseekers pittance - or being used for actual training, not just cheap forced labour.

The most frustrating thing is that she was already getting real training in a museum, helping her towards her wanted career, so putting her in poundland was entirely counter-productive. Some part-time worker wanting some overtime was denied that work in the xmas rush, because poundland had a forced JSA person doing it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:31 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can anyone back this up?

Yup. Jobseekers allowance and sanctions;

You will be given a fixed period sanction if you...lose a place on a training scheme or employment programme through misconduct;

First offence, lose two weeks JSA; four weeks for a 2nd sanction in 12 months; 3rd sanction, lose 26 weeks JSA. So behave, or we'll make you literally starve. Good thing those job-seekers are all benefit scroungers trying to avoid work, not actual young people with no jobs to actually get. (hamburger)
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:35 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some other data points. Last year, the net wealth of the 50 richest families in Birmingham (where Cait Reilly lives and works) rose by 13%, despite the recession. Overnight, it was revealed that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, favours the purchase of a new royal yacht for the Queen to celebrate her 60th jubilee. "In spite, and perhaps because of the austere times, the celebration should go beyond those of previous jubilees and mark the greater achievement that the diamond anniversary represents," he writes.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:37 AM on January 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


Overnight, it was revealed that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, favours the purchase of a new royal yacht for the Queen to celebrate her 60th jubilee. "In spite, and perhaps because of the austere times, the celebration should go beyond those of previous jubilees and mark the greater achievement that the diamond anniversary represents," he writes.

The most eloquent response to this that I could possibly muster was FUCK OFF YOU FUCKING FUCK, however I do wonder if that idea was put forward purely for some good PR for Cameron (and so they could use that "torpedo" pun).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:40 AM on January 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


however I do wonder if that idea was put forward purely for some good PR for Cameron (and so they could use that "torpedo" pun).
Yeah, I saw that theory in the comments on the Guardian article. I don't know, though: setting up your Education Secretary as the most ludicrous send-up of an out-of-touch Tory toff isn't the best PR move either. I just genuinely think these guys, shielded as they are (and have been since birth) from the lives of the vast majority of their subjects, sorry, constituents, honestly don't realize how insulting and plain inappropriate a suggestion like that would sound.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:46 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The new royal yacht will be proportionally quite popular with the over-65s, who will see it as a status symbol of a untarnished nation and who vote Tory in droves. They've also disproportionally got houses, pensions and all that stuff. Some have children, though. Point is - this isn't knee-jerk or out of touch, it's focus-group and poll-led policy. Don't underestimate them.
posted by cromagnon at 7:55 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Unpaid labour is innately immoral. Period.

There are no excuses for pretending otherwise. None. Not one. And saying "Well, you're getting valuable work experience and there's a much better chance we'll employ you eventually" is one of the nastiest, sneakiest, most shamelessly exploitative excuses of them all. Poor people cannot afford to work for no money and better-off people who do so need to realise they are part of the problem because they play along with it. They're the bosses' useful idiots.
posted by Decani at 7:58 AM on January 16, 2012 [26 favorites]


I'm not sure when the unpaid internship became the epidemic that it now is, but I have seen its tentacles grow even further in my relatively short working life. I am fairly convinced that there will be several sectors of the economy (journalism and "cultural" jobs are the first to come to mind) that in twenty years will not have any one employed there that was not born in at least an upper middle class household.

I'm sure certain industries have always skewed, even heavily, towards the privileged. But what does it mean when certain institutions (say, significant portions of the federal government) have absolutely no idea what 90% of the populace lives like? Sadly, maybe not that much different than now, but it certainly won't be a good thing.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 8:00 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


cromagnon: I'd have thought the Tories have a lock on the affluent over-65s anyhow; surely poll-led policy would involve not pissing the rest of us off?
posted by Jakob at 8:01 AM on January 16, 2012


She wasn't *strictly* speaking, unpaid - she was 'paid' with her unemployment benefit while working there. It's been a fairly long standing thing that people are required to take up reasonable offers of employment or do some job skill training in order to still qualify for jobseekers over time.

She was forced to quit a volunteer position at a not-for-profit organisation (a museum) that was actually providing her training and an 'in' to a better profession in order to do her 'training' at a for-profit firm that had an setup with the job centre to get her unpaid labour in exchange for no training. She had no option to do the only thing that makes sense here: getting her actual volunteer placement designated as what it was - job training.

Meanwhile, a young person from a wealthier family could sidestep the entire problem - get family support to continue the actual training and just give up the jobseeker benefit. I don't blame the wealthier kid or the wealthier family - they are doing what is right for their kid - but I do blame the people who are running these programs, because they have to know that this has the effect of limiting the chances of kids from working-class families. This young woman could be the best aspiring museum worker going, and in this situation, it doesn't matter. Whatever education or skills she has, she ends up at Poundland for lack of family money, while the actual training position goes to someone who has family support.

It sounds very childlike, but it's true: that's just not fair.
posted by Wylla at 8:37 AM on January 16, 2012 [32 favorites]


More than that, it's unjust and cruel. It's one thing for a government to fail to institute systems that diversify the intake to professions. To redesign the system specifically to exclude people who are seen as socially inferior is obscene.
posted by Grangousier at 9:38 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Between this and the Big Society idea of laying off staff and replacing them with volunteers (those being laid off are asked to return as volunteers too) I wonder how sustainable the UK will be in ten years.

It is a given that corporations will lower their overhead of taxes and staffing costs as much as possible and reatin profits for themselves. With unemployed (no income tax revenue) residents able to afford to purchase items (thus not paying VAT) where does the Government think future revenue is going to come from?
posted by saucysault at 9:39 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Between this and the Big Society idea of laying off staff and replacing them with volunteers (those being laid off are asked to return as volunteers too) I wonder how sustainable the UK will be in ten years.

I think it's basically another right-wing attempt to plunder other people's time, money, energy and lives - to live off the sacrifice of others, whether by getting young people to do something for nothing, or by (in the case of the Big Society) cutting back the state to create competition-free plundering opportunities for the private sector. The whole thing is more than a little reminiscent of Newt Gingrich's fantasies about poor people being turned into janitors.

To him that hath, shall be given.

I'd really like to believe that Conservatism had more to it than rampant parasitism in a fancy hat, but the English Tory party do seem determined to frustrate me.
posted by lucien_reeve at 9:58 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


the celebration should go beyond those of previous jubilees and mark the greater achievement that the diamond anniversary represents

The achievement of not falling off her pile of inherited money and position. Surely there is no greater achievement in the eyes of a Tory.
posted by srboisvert at 10:14 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whatever education or skills she has, she ends up at Poundland for lack of family money, while the actual training position goes to someone who has family support.

I used to do competitive, commercial office work during my vacations and had substantial experience by the time I graduated. I could not afford to spend hundreds of pounds commuting to work for free in the work experience positions advertised at my university careers centre, which were at arts and cultural organizations relevant to my interests.

Because I hadn't done this, it was very difficult for me to get work not only at those organizations after I graduated, but a "career" job of any kind, because I hadn't been "motivated" to work for free before I started my career. I ended up doing pink-collar work for many years thereafter. All I had was a bunch of real-world commercial experience which I competed with other candidates to get. I doubt that that experience would have been actually worthless to the organizations in question; it seems more likely, to me, that at that time unpaid work experience was a way of intentionally screening out working class candidates lest we put coal in the company bath. This was about 20 years ago.

I heard a career placement officer, only a couple of years ago, speak scathingly about the unsuitability of working-class undergraduates for the job market, because (she said) not only was this demographic unaware of etiquette and dress norms, but they "cannot socially network" and, most scandalously of all, wouldn't work for free.

Plus ça change I guess. Except nowadays I wouldn't even be allowed to work for free at those places, I'd just get smacked straight back down to Poundland where I belonged.
posted by tel3path at 10:17 AM on January 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


This sort of stuff just makes me sick, it's insidious and we are going to see much more of it in the future...

A relative of mine was telling me that the increasing number of charity shops on the high streets are now being manned by job seekers getting 'experience' instead of little old ladies (though I suppose it's better than Poundland).

Read this depressing article yesterday about a bloke on the dole who, after various loan payments and bills are taken off his benefits has about twenty quid a week to live on:

Once a week he has been volunteering with his old employers, because he enjoys his work and wants to be the first back in if there's an opening, obligingly doing his old job for free.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:35 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh and I remember a while back the bloody BBC (The Voice Of The Conservative Party) having a program hosted by some American academic saying how great workfair was... going round Liverpool and telling the poor bastards with no chance of job they could not get something for nothing.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:37 AM on January 16, 2012


I know it's only <51 commentors and I know MeFi is a bit left leaning and so on, but it's pretty striking that there hasn't been a single person saying "yes, but we'd be a lot worse off with a bond crisis"*. Question is, and we really need an answer to this shortly - what do we do? Individual action, unionisation, grassroots training initiatives - these things probably matter more than exercising democracy right now, but I do still have a vote, I have to do something with it - and every f(&*^ng party wants the same damn thing. Apart from the Greens, and I like GM food and nukes.

Seriously, what's even a moderate social liberal in favour of minor wealth distribution meant to do? And I somehow doubt I'm alone.



*yes, it's heartless - and probably doomed on a ten year timeframe - but an adroit economist might make it a defensible position in the short term.
posted by cromagnon at 10:52 AM on January 16, 2012


This is one of the catch 22 issues that has me rethinking my present job. Part of my job is finding places that will take someone to work for free, and then trying to ensure the person performs well enough to at least get a reference. Much of the time I know there is no job on offer there. Should Cait follow Meatbombs advice, and be kicked off her work experience for the reasons stated, then yeah, she might lose her benefits, but here in the frozen north, we are a caring bunch, and she would probably be sent on job-training instead.

This might involve something as stimulating as putting three items in a small ziplock, over and over and over again, while they try to work out what is wrong with her. Hopefully that would make her sufficiently passive that when offered the chance to take a shelf-stacker job she would now be genuinely useless at it, slow, without initiative, not very social. Even if they did have an opening they wouldn't offer it to her. She's probably been out of the normal workforce for at least a year now.

Maybe she misses a day, cos she's feeling really teary, but is embarrassed to call in sick, doesn't really know what to say to them. She loses that months money, including her travel allowance, so she can't get to work, and again, avoidant she doesn't call them, or call her caseworker, and suddenly a weeks gone by, and she's fucked and she knows it. So she borrows some money to pay the rent.

Maybe from one of those sms services. She knows they are terrible, but she's got to do something. Can't make the payments back on that, noone who would ever use it can. So now her debt has grown and been sent to the state debt collectors... and wouldn't you fucking know it, they use a different definition of minimum income than the welfare office, so a garnished wage will leave her with less in pocket than staying on benefits. Well... she wasn't going to get that job anyhow, might as well have an iPhone.
posted by Iteki at 11:05 AM on January 16, 2012


Question is, and we really need an answer to this shortly - what do we do?

Burn shit down until the last banker is hung from a lamppost by the guts of the last Tory voter Sensibly and calmly find alternatives to the current economic order, but careful not to frighten the investors away.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:05 PM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'll just note by the way that the Romanians just managed to prevent the privetisation of their health care system by rioting in the streets btw.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:06 PM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll just note by the way that the Romanians just managed to prevent the privetisation of their health care system by rioting in the streets btw.

You mean they didn't play drums and mic check until they got what they wanted?
posted by weinbot at 1:42 PM on January 16, 2012


Not surprised that everyone is focusing on the slave labor end of things, but what strikes me about this program -- since a similar one has been proposed for Wisconsin -- is that the program is overall wage deflationary, as well as having the side effect of actually decreasing the need for employers to create jobs to get work done, which over time will create a larger pool of unemployed free labor. It's insane, and exactly the opposite of what you would want to do if you have a lot of unemployed people.
posted by dhartung at 2:13 PM on January 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


I had to do a semester-long, unpaid, full-time internship to get my degree. What it meant for me practically was that I had to fit my other (paying) job in around the 9-5 time requirements for the internship. Because I needed the money to do things like eat and pay rent. I feel fortunate that I did it when I was young, before I needed things like sleep and recreation.
posted by kamikazegopher at 2:37 PM on January 16, 2012


as 'internships' are a new thing in the UK [...] is this something degree courses now require? As in, not just to make your path into post-graduate study easier, but to actually complete the course?

It's not uncommon in engineering to offer a "sandwich course" where one spends a year in the middle of one's degree in an "industrial placement", doing the work of a junior engineer at a local company. There's a body called Year in industry which organises some of this. Other courses often have a summer job requirement - engineering students at Cambridge cannot graduate without at least 8 weeks industrial experience.

Of course every such placement I've ever seen paid (albeit not very well, usually equivalent to £10,000 to £18,000 per annum) and the ones I took provided pretty good training and experience.

It goes without saying that this is worlds apart from stacking shelves at Poundland.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:49 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cait Reilly should up sticks and take her degree in geology to Australia, where she could get a well paid job in the mining industry in five minutes.
posted by wilful at 6:05 PM on January 16, 2012


The intern thing has already become crazy in the UK - a year after moving here from Australia I saw what was almost an exact replica of my (decently paying, rather specialised) previous job, being advertised as a six month internship opportunity. Funnily enough, it continued to be advertised for some time, as they couldn't find someone suitable to stick the six months. As other have said the rampant 'intern culture' is not only locking anyone but the moneyed classes out of career-paths, it is deflating wages: why pay someone when you can get someone for free? And why pay those you do have to pay a decent wage when you have the threat of replacing them with an intern if they complain?

And wilful, what if her geology degree is not in a field relevent to mining? And why should she have to leave her own country just to get a decent job somewhere other than Poundland?
posted by Megami at 12:46 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ticket to Australia: £832. That's before the cost of accommodation, visas, and the various other expenses involved in a drastic move.

If she's on the dole, she can't afford it. Maybe if Poundland offered her a job, it could be an idea to aim for, but they don't want to.
posted by mippy at 3:47 AM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just so you Brit Metaf'ers don't feel too bad, the US has its own version of mandatory Work Experience (called WEP) for people on public assistance. Unemployment, however, does not require this since its assumed you're looking for work full time.

As someone who has experienced ridiclous underemployment, I fully support WEP programs that place people out-of-work into not-for-profit companies, social and institutional companies (though in my case I was off it and working before I was forced to enrol in WEP).

Anything that may break the market-driven cycle pushing underemployed into accepting lower paid, and lower skilled jobs further and further out of career is worth investigating and deserves attention.
posted by xtian at 5:53 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


they'd be costing the company money even if they did work for free.

This is from well upthread, but I wanted to respond to it because I think it's important.

Here in the U.S., anyway, the Federal Department of Labor has a definition for unpaid internships that is more honored in the breach than in the observance, but which includes all of the following conditions (emphasis added):
  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
In other words, if an intern isn't costing you money in some form or other, you're in violation of Federal labor law. There has been a lot of reporting lately on how unpaid internships in a lot of sectors are in violation of these guidelines, but not a lot of action from the DOL.
posted by gauche at 1:31 PM on January 17, 2012


@gauche ,
It gets better. As you say, the DOL does not concern itself with the enforcement of the internship labor laws. Its because they're busy putting their energies into denying Unemployment Benefits to qualified workers.

I know a worker who fought their disqualification, and the last employer did not fight. Yet a UI appeal does not proceed like a small claim's case. The DOL continued the hearing, but in whose interests? The system of Unemployment Benefit's Interest and the previous employer (not the "tryout" employer) through the narrow categories of, fired, quit, laid-off.

Our labor laws still followed the Industrialized Taylorism. That is just not the case now is an era of the service economy--one employee who "gets it" is worth two who just know the motions. Its in the interest of every employer to investigate a good lead. But not all leads pan out, and just as in sales, not all contracts are fulfilled as promised. Then its a situation of employers who are over-staffing to find the best possible workers and employees who are finding themselves in the growing class of Precarious workers.

The appeals process is guided by labor laws administered by DOL judges. It has the appearance of following the principles of fairness under the law. Unfortunately the DOL is lagging in an industrial age 50+ years in the past.

I only know this part since this is not my story, yet this bit of appeals enforcement by the DOL doesn't sound like fairness.

------------
Add to the above links for WEP is another program (with the seemingly strange acronym) FEGS which is another welfare to work program.
posted by xtian at 2:23 PM on January 23, 2012


There are two big issues to consider with mandatory work experience programs :

(1) You shouldn't force the person to give up their other opportunities. As noted upthread, they forced this girl out of her volunteer position with a museum, a post that gained her more valuable experience long term. You'll create injustice if you don't keep it flexible.

(2) You don't want "make work" programs that don't achieve anything useful, destroy another real job, or probably get done anyways. And I'm fairly sure stocking shelves at poundland qualifies for these last two restrictions. Just ask em' to volunteer with non-profit organizations, like where this girl was originally.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:48 PM on January 23, 2012


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