The Taylor Review says it's game over for unpaid internships, but is it?

Interns' rights hinge on two essential premises: that there are clear legal, moral, and business justifications for paying people gaining experience, and that the distinction between output and outcomes from 'interns' and 'everyone else' is wholly artificial.

The Taylor review can't have it's cake and eat it: either the law works regarding interns or it doesn't, argues Nicholas Dunn-McAfee
The Taylor review can't have it's cake and eat it: either the law works regarding interns or it doesn't, argues Nicholas Dunn-McAfee

So far, so good, we can all agree that there’s little point pretending that young people deserve to be stripped of their rights during the first foray into the industry, but we need to focus on how we put this into practice.

It’s not an unattainable ideal - and this industry has done enormous work in the right direction – but we still see too many unpaid internship adverts for us to rest on our laurels just yet.


Also see: Paying the 'Living Wage' is one of the keys to unlocking diversity in PR


The Private Member's Bill from Alec Sherbrooke in 2016 didn’t make it anywhere near the statute books, but it did guarantee that internship would stay on the agenda.

The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices is the latest venture to pick up and properly consider internships in the modern workplace. It might have been a minor part of that Review, but there are significant implications to what it says about internships.

The Review argues that there is no need to change the law to recognise interns.

Effectively, it made the same argument that many have made already and for some time: there isn’t a need to change the law, because the current laws should work.

There’s the operative word in all its glory: ‘should’. A lot of futures in the PR and communications industry hang on that ‘should’.

If you cut through the Review’s language of ‘clarifying’ and ‘enforcing’, there’s an important grain of truth – we can either march forward and genuinely cross the Rubicon or we can laze around dithering on the riverbank a while longer.

It would entirely prove the Review wrong in this respect and show that the current cake retention and cake consumption policy of saying ‘it does work, but isn’t being applied’ can no longer be maintained.

Nicholas Dunn-McAfee, head of public affairs at the PRCA

If the argument being made is that the current laws are fit for purpose because they ought to work, we now need a myriad of enforcement activities to prove they do work.

If that doesn’t happen, we’re not just letting down our future assistant account executives, communications assistants, and press officers, it would entirely prove the Review wrong in this respect and show that the current cake retention and cake consumption policy of saying ‘it does work, but isn’t being applied’ can no longer be maintained.

Social justice deserves a little better than another bout of warm words; interns deserve better than the Kafka-esque ‘grey area’ excuses that fall out of the mouths of those caught taking real advantage of young people getting to grips with the world of crisis communications, media engagement, and content creation.

Standing at the fork of the road and looking at the path I want the Government to go down doesn’t guarantee any thick-and-fast outcomes for new starters in PR and communications; the Review’s comments on interns do, however, guarantee that we’re at the point of no return.

Either the system in place remedies the problem, or the Review has put the wheels in motion for new legislation.

Nicholas Dunn-McAfee is head of public affairs at the PRCA

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in