National Magazine Company editorial director Lindsay Nicholson has urged journalism tutors to shop publishers who use “slave labour practices” and exploit work experience placements.
Speaking at the National Council for the Training of Journalists skills conference in Salford today, Nicholson said more needed to be done to root out the use by some publishers of long periods of unpaid work experience, which she said was both illegal and “absolutely scandalous”.
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Nicholson said journalism tutors whose students had been asked to work for long periods without pay should inform Revenue and Customs.
“I think what happened, particularly in magazines, about work experience a few years ago where people were working unpaid for six months to a year at a time was absolutely scandalous,” she said.
“It was also illegal as a result of minimum wage legislation. It is illegal to employ people and not pay them.”
She urged delegates: “Should you find or know of any students who are being required to work in that way then you should alert the Inland Revenue.
“They will sue the company for what would have been paid in income tax and national insurance contributions and they will assume that for every unpaid intern they find there are another 10. That’s quite a deterrent.
“I would urge you to do that if you find anyone resorting to these slave labour practices.”
Nicholson said Natmags only took students from accredited journalism courses on work experience, with placements lasting a maximum of four weeks.
“We have verbal agreements with them and they are monitored throughout the four weeks,” she said.
The National Union of Journalists published a report in April this year which found that many newsrooms were offering potentially illegal work experience placements lasting months, giving students hollow promises of paid work and relying too heavily on free labour.
More than 20 per cent of the journalists surveyed by the union said they had worked unpaid for three months or more since they graduated.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said at the time: ‘That’s not work experience; that’s work. Many media companies seem to think that it’s acceptable to exploit the hopes and dreams of recent journalism graduates by getting them to work for free in exchange for flimsy promises of future work.”