This piece of news has been making the rounds on the fashion news sites for the last few days that the HMRC is cracking done on unpaid internships among major fashion brands. The news is that they have sent out letters to 102 of the big companies telling them they have to pay interns the national minimum wage or face prosecution.
“These letters give fashion houses plenty of warning that they are under scrutiny,” Michelle Wyer, HMRC’s assistant director for minimum wage said. “If they are not playing by the rules, now is the time to put things right. Non-payment of the national minimum wage is not an option.”
Unpaid internships have long been the norm in the fashion industry, with interns often having to work long hard hours in the vain hope of getting a job out of it at the end or getting enough contacts to find work afterwards. Added to that pressure is the fact you’re often working for months without getting paid, and it very often means that the only people who can afford to do an internship is someone who has the financial means.
I am not one of those people and both internships I’ve done have left me struggling to recoup the money I lost, and in one case even ending up in hospital for working myself to the bone. They are so rewarding but when you’re constantly stressing about how you’re going to pay rent or bills or even afford to feed yourself, following your dream job is a little too much of a sacrifice.
Thankfully both internships I’ve done have been brilliant and the people I’ve worked for have been amazing in the opportunities and help they gave me. But it does raise another question. At what point have you done enough internships to start getting paid work?
This is the stage I am at now. I’m too poor to do any more internships, and with two under my belt and a year’s work on a start-up magazine, shouldn’t I have enough experience to start getting paid for my contributions?
Internships are invaluable and the HMRC might not necessarily be right in forcing fashion brands to pay their interns minimum wage as this will hurt the small to medium sized businesses who often can’t afford to, but still need the help; but something needs to change. With the economy as bad as it is, the laws need to be changed to protect students and young graduates from getting themselves massively into debt for a career that they might not get after their internship expires.
What are your opinions on this practice?