14 Jan 2015

Don’t Ever Work for Free

Final-year university students embark on internship programmes to gain industry experience and contribute to the organisation to which they are attached. In addition to allowing students to fulfil their graduation requirements, internships serve as invaluable launching pads for students' future careers and are a great way to gain on-the-job experience. 

Any manifestation of dissent against one’s employer or failure to perform will affect one’s grades and in turn hinder the path towards graduation. This, combined with the perception that one ought to be thankful for any internship opportunity, often causes interns to tolerate unfair treatment or even expect it. 

Be Paid for Your Work
But even though internship programmes mean a lot to students, it is not an opportunity for employers to be conceited and benefit from cheap labour. Condé Nast, a New York mass media company that publishes well-known titles such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue, faced a lawsuit between 2013 and 2014 when interns sued it for paying below the minimum wage.

Granted, Condé Nast interns are afforded an invaluable experience during their time at widely-read publications under one of the biggest names in the mass media industry. But why should Condé Nast’s sheer reputation justify the averting of compensation of at least a minimum wage? It is called ‘minimum wage’ for a reason – it is the bare minimum someone should be paid for his/her efforts.

Many issues stem from unpaid internships. It alienates those who cannot afford to work for free, jeopardising the company’s chance to groom talented individuals and well-qualified potential future hires who fall through the cracks. Furthermore, it affects the expectations of university graduates and paid employees. University graduates would accept a lower salary figure than they deserve and are less likely to negotiate on a starting salary, in turn causing greater financial instability.   

Know Your Rights
In Singapore, interns are protected under the Ministry of Manpower’s Employment Act, as are all employees under a contract of service. An employer is obliged to accord statutory benefits prescribed under the Act to an intern as long as the intern performs work and has work arrangements similar to that of a regular employee in the organisation.

Interns who enter into a contract of service should not be required to work for more than 8 hours a day or more than 44 hours in a week. His/her overtime hours is subject to the limit of 12 working hours per day, not exceeding 72 hours per month. Furthermore, employers must pay their interns for their extra hours of work or for working on rest days or public holidays, and the rate for overtime work must be no less than one and a half times his basic rate of pay.

Given that most students in Singapore receive an internship opportunity through their educational institution, they can rest assured that they are able to provide feedback whenever they feel it necessary. This ensures that cases of unfair treatment are kept to a minimal, and institutions and employers can continually revamp their internship programme to improve students’ internship experience.

Even though you, as an intern, start at ground zero in a company, it is important to do your best to contribute however you can and speak up in times of adversity. Remember that you should never be made to feel undervalued or underappreciated - an internship experience should be one that is both memorable and enriching.