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March 29, 2018updated 11 Oct 2018 3:57pm

Monocle defends editorial internships after former intern claims to be suing for unpaid wages

By Charlotte Tobitt

Monocle magazine and radio station has defended its use of editorial internships after a Guardian article by a former intern claimed she had begun legal action for “unpaid wages”.

The magazine’s lawyers say they are not aware of a legal claim at this time, despite a Guardian article by freelance Amalia Illgner, published this week,  headlined: “Why I’m suing over my dream internship.”

In the first-person long read, Illgner claims to “have taken the first step in legal proceedings to claim my unpaid wages”.

Monocle has stressed to Press Gazette that its internships are not unpaid and that they comply with the terms of the national minimum wage of £7.50 an hour, although Illgner said she was paid just £30 a day.

Illgner said her role during the internship at Monocle’s London headquarters was to help Monocle 24 prepare for its 7am radio show by writing detailed research briefings for producers, ferrying post between floors, fact checking copy and transcribing interviews.

She wrote: “Sure, £30 a day works out at around the same hourly rate as an illegally exploited UK garment factory worker, but when I was accepted last year, I was thrilled.”

She said she was told by the managing editor during her interview that she would be encouraged to pitch and write articles throughout the internship, but she would be unpaid for anything published.

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However she said she “fell out of love” with the internship when she was asked to fact-check her own front page article for Monocle’s Summer Weekly newspaper on a Saturday, for which she was not being paid.

She wrote: “Halfway through my internship, I landed my first front-page piece for Monocle’s Summer Weekly newspaper. It was a personal coup, but after 20 hours of research and writing – done in my own time – the thrill of a byline paled against the glaring fact that I was not being paid for the story.

“The privilege of working for almost nothing no longer seemed like a viable way to get ahead. A few months later, I would start proceedings against Monocle for unpaid wages.”

She added: “Working that Saturday afternoon for free to help a $47m publishing company make its deadlines, I became convinced that something had to be done.”

A Monocle spokesperson said: “Monocle is not aware of legal action being taken by the author of this article. Should there be any, it would not be something on which we would publicly comment.

“The author came to us last year. She was impressively insistent in  expressing her wish to work for us specifically as an intern. This was despite the fact that she was outside the typical demographic for such a position. During her time with us she never made any complaint.

“We remain proud of our internship scheme which has provided a launchpad for many young people to move into fulfilling and rewarding careers in publishing and journalism. Naturally we are sorry that Amalia now feels it didn’t quite work out for her.

“Our scheme remains constantly under review to ensure that it is fair in offering both opportunity and reward to as many people as possible. The pay of the company’s current interns is compliant with all legal requirements, and with the terms of the national minimum wage.”

Based in London, with six other bureaux around the world, Monocle magazine is published ten times a year and claims to sell more than 81,000 copies per issue, with 18,000 subscribers.

Three editorial internship adverts are currently listed on the Monocle website, for the Tokyo, Toronto and Hong Kong bureaux, the latter of which is the only one to give details of its working hours and pay arrangements.

Expenses will be covered for the full-time five-day-a-week position, which will last for a minimum of two months.

UK Government guidance says an intern is entitled to the national minimum wage if they count as a worker.

This would mean they have a contract (which does not need to be written) or other arrangement to do work for a reward which is money or a benefit in kind – for example the promise of a contract or future work.

It also means they have to turn up for work even if they don’t want to and their employer has to have work for them to do as long as the contract or arrangement lasts.

The Government website says: “An intern’s rights depend on their employment status. If an intern is classed as a worker, then they’re normally due the national minimum wage.

“Internships are sometimes called work placements or work experience. These terms have no legal status on their own.

“If an intern does regular paid work for an employer, they may qualify as an employee and be eligible for employment rights.”

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