Article written by Ana Milena Coral-Diaz Ph.D (Netherlands).
Unpaid internships may appear to be an opportunity to gain experience and expand networking in a specific area. However, this ambitious experience often entails unfairness that needs to be recognized. Organizations must understand the real dimensions and impact of these "unpaid jobs." Recent graduates must set realistic expectations and consider all accompanying circumstances.
Double Standard : organizations typically have many paid jobs, creating a double standard structure for unpaid interns. These Individuals are not on the payroll, which means they do not have access to practical benefits like health insurance paid by the company, paid leave, mental health provisions, retirement plans, among others.
Unfairness feeling : this situation can have detrimental effects on internals. The double standard may lead interns to believe that paid employees or interns with access to benefits are more valued by the organization. This perception can be harmful to important assets such as self-confidence, self-esteem, and the expectation of fair treatment in any job. Although this unfair situation may be tolerable for the sake of an ambitious career in the future, any feelings of being undervalued may have long-term consequences that we are not aware of until it is too late to repair.
Outcomes and job prospects : According to the ILO, paid internships yield better outcomes than unpaid internship:
“This could occur if, for example, paid internships attract more motivated candidates with better than average job prospects even in the absence of the internship. It could also arise if firms who take internships more seriously both pay their internships and also run better quality programs leading to the acquisition of more work related skills by participants.”
This situation also has an impact on the job market or job searching in the future. According to Cerulli-Harms (2017) unpaid internals face negative perceptions due to “asymmetric information and negative signaling”.
“Employers assume that post-graduate interns were unable to find jobs after graduation, accepting an internship as a substitute for further job search.”
Risks : We need to consider the additional risks and circumstances that come with unpaid internships. Situations such as labor or sexual harassment in the workplace have a negative impact on employees and lead to decreased morale in work teams. Interns or any unpaid trainee may be at a higher risk of experiencing harassment due to their status as temporary and less protected workers. They may feel that they have less power and fewer options for reporting harassment and may be less likely to speak out against it out of fear of damaging their relationship with their employer or losing the opportunity to gain valuable work experience.
Unpaid workers are also more vulnerable to exploitation or mistreatment in the workplace. Some employers may take advantage of the fact that interns are not paid by giving them menial or unpleasant tasks, subjecting them to long hours or unsafe working conditions, or failing to provide them with the support and resources they need to succeed in their roles.
These circumstances require to be understood not only by implementing policies of protection, but also by recognizing that from an ethical perspective, being paid for any job is a fundamental human right..., regardless of the person's experience. People need to understand that circumstances like those mentioned here are part of the equation and cannot be overlooked, even for humanitarian organizations with low budgets.
Furthermore, for organizations that aim to protect human rights, there is a heightened responsibility regarding human rights protection. Therefore, organizations that overlook these negative impacts are inconsistent with their own missions.