Agency says media interns are ‘slave labour’

Scotland’s largest communications agency The BIG Partnership has announced all interns will now be paid the voluntary living wage of £8.25 per hour.

The company has also called for the eradication of unpaid internships across the PR, media and marketing industries, which, it says, can often amount to “little more than slave labour”.

Offering all team members a highly competitive pay and benefits package, The BIG Partnership has also paid interns the national minimum wage for many years. It has now taken the additional decision to voluntarily adopt the higher-rate national living wage of £8.25 per hour for all interns, underlining the valuable role they play in the business.

BIG Partnership founding director Alex Barr said: “Asking interns to work for nothing on the premise of ‘gaining valuable experience’ is a fig-leaf used by too many agencies and devalues the vital contribution that interns make to our industry.

“At BIG we pay our staff well for the results they deliver to clients. Over and above our basic legal obligations, we are now increasing what we pay our interns for the work they do, while offering them a structured, carefully-managed programme of development and exposure to real project work from day one.”

Despite ongoing initiatives by industry bodies such as Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) to discourage the practice of unpaid internships in the industry, many firms are still failing to properly reward those who wish to gain experience and increase their chances of securing a permanent job.

Alex Barr said: “We’ve had numerous examples of people, including interns, who’ve come to us after having worked somewhere else without being paid – in one case for over ten months. That’s tantamount to slave labour and is abusing the trust of young people who are simply trying their best to get a foothold in our industry. In some cases, companies are not even offering basic expenses.

“The fact that many of our interns are genuinely shocked when we hand them a pay-cheque at the end of the week underlines the scale of the problem.

“Over the past 15 years, some of our most talented people, including one of our current board members, have come through our internship opportunities. It’s incredibly beneficial to the business, and we also work hard to ensure it’s of real value to all those who serve internships with us.”

During the past two years alone, BIG has welcomed more than 40 interns across its five offices, with seven of these subsequently given full-time permanent roles.

Board director Sharon Mars, head of BIG’s North West of England operation, first joined the company on a two-week placement in August 2009.

She said: “BIG valued my contribution from day one and offered me genuine industry experience which helped convince me that strategic communications was where my future lay. My internship was challenging and relevant, and ultimately led to me building my career at BIG.”

PR-Alex-Barr

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