The reward of a few quid wouldn't just make the intern’s task of endlessly stuffing envelopes that much more palatable. It’d also make it fairer for everyone competing for the privilege. Internships often tend to be the preserve of young people from better-resourced backgrounds, or at least those less saddled with debt - since they're the only ones who can afford to endure months of tea-making and taking the boss’s suit to the dry-cleaner’s without needing to earn a crust.
Particularly for in-demand sectors like media and publishing, companies are able to keep youngsters on for six months or more unpaid, on the premise that they’re doing them a favour by giving them invaluable experience. Never mind that most people – and the law – might argue that making people work unpaid for set hours, with specific tasks, is a bit on the exploitative side.
The trouble is, thousands are prepared to do it. And it seems the internship remains an invaluable route into employment: research by the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that 22% of summer 2009 graduates who were in employment six months later had previously had some kind of work experience with that employer. So for those who can stick it out, internships do at least lead to jobs. But companies be willing to hand them out if they had to pay a few quid an hour for the privilege?
The CIPD’s ideas are part of its new Blueprint for Growth, which says that while the Government has a pretty clear plan for how to handle cuts, it seems much hazier about how to encourage more positive change in the employment landscape. As well as fighting the interns’ corner, the organisation is suggesting the introduction of a formal mediation process for workplace disputes to reduce the number that end up at employment tribunal. It's also urging the government to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.
But according to the latest offering from the Office for National Statistics, perhaps interns should just enjoy what they have. The ONS has measured the response to the PM’s recent drive to establish the nation’s happiness, and found that most people cite having a job as more important than how much they are paid. Although we imagine that on balance, most people would be happier to work for something as opposed to nothing…