UK's PRCA takes hard line on unpaid internships

NEW YORK: The UK's Public Relations Consultants Association issued a strict set of guidelines on Wednesday about the treatment of interns, which includes paying them the national minimum wage.

NEW YORK: The UK's Public Relations Consultants Association issued a strict set of guidelines on Wednesday about the treatment of interns, which includes paying them the national minimum wage.

The goal of the intern guidelines, compiled by the PRCA and its members, is to improve the communications industry's standards on the subject. The guides are part of the body's campaign, launched with PRWeek UK last October, to end unpaid internships.

The guidelines state that internships are “contracted, non-voluntary work.” UK legislation states that all workers who are older than the compulsory school-leaving age should be paid at least the national minimum wage, meaning organizations are legally obligated to pay interns.

The document makes clear that it is not only a legal obligation to pay interns, but a moral one, and the PRCA is against the practice of labelling interns as volunteers to avoid payment.

“The short-term benefits of free labor are greatly outweighed by the way that this practice devalues our expertise and reputation,” said Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA. “It is unfair to ask young people to work for free, just so that in the short term organizations can benefit financially.”

In the US, the PRSA's board of ethics and professional standards issued its own guidelines on the issue in February 2011.

The PRSA believes it is “ethically wrong” to employ anyone who adds real value to an agency or employer without compensating them for their work, whether that compensation is monetary or in the form of educational credits.

Stephanie Cegielski, associate director of PR at PRSA, said while unpaid internships exist, “there is beginning to be a shift of thought about how to treat interns and what they mean to an organization.”

She said the PRSA has no immediate plans to issue new guidelines on unpaid internships.

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