6th December 2021 |
Know your rights: Internships

By Clara Finnigan

If you’re a student or a recent graduate chances are you already know all the right tips to make you the perfect intern - turn up on time, always say yes, take initiative, go the extra mile and stand out.

But rarely do young people hear about the importance of knowing their worth and their human rights as an intern. Especially in such a competitive landscape like the creative industry, young people’s eagerness to succeed can so often be exploited. 

At Glug we believe in the power and the worth of young creative’s so we’ve made a toolkit to help any interns out there navigate their career start, make the right decisions and know their rights!


Know the law

With companies and websites providing incorrect information, it can be difficult to know what is lawful practice and what isn’t. 

A sure way to encourage fair treatment is understanding the difference between being a worker, a student on placement or purely shadowing in the workplace. 

By law, employers have to pay their interns at least the national minimum wage if:  

  • As an intern, you count as a ‘worker’. The government defines a ‘worker’ as someone who has a contract (either written or verbal) is required to turn up and complete set tasks. 
  • You are also entitled to the national minimum wage if you have been promised a work contract in future. 

By law, employers do not have to pay their interns the national minimum wage if:

  • You are shadowing an employee (i.e. Following a worker and observing what they do) If you are shadowing you should not be required to complete any tasks on their behalf and you are allowed to leave at any time.
  • If you are a student who is required to undertake an internship (for under a year) as part of a UK-based further or higher education. 
  • If you are working for a charity or voluntary organisation and are receiving limited expenses, such as for food and travel. 

Make sure in the interview process that your prospective employer is clear about the status of your placement and that you’re being paid accordingly.  

Learn more about UK employment laws here: 


Know your worth 

Employers can often make young people feel like their time isn’t valuable - but it’s important to know your worth is extremely valuable, especially in an unpaid internship. So much of the creative industry is built on small budgets that rely on the keen hands of unpaid work. Interns are the fresh minds which bring insight into the future of creativity. They are an integral part of the industry's system and they should be treated as such. 

Choose the right internship

The best internships are those which are one to three months, appropriately paid and well structured. Where employers provide training, dedicated supervision and regular feedback. Make it your mission to find the right internship for you, rather than rushing into a placement where your labour and boundaries aren’t respected. 

It’s worth having a meeting with your employer or supervisor at the beginning of your internship to set up a clear structure and set of goals. This way you know where you stand and have the tools to succeed.


Check your privilege 

As Darren Walker from the New York Times wrote “talent is equally distributed, but the opportunity is not”. When entering into an unpaid internship, it's important to remember that. 

Research from the Sutton Trusts estimates that it costs an intern a minimum of £1,019 per month to live in London and £827 in Manchester. Therefore unpaid internships prevent those from low and moderate-income backgrounds from getting into the highly competitive creative industry, as unpaid internships are so often the way young people make a start in their career. 

This can be an issue particularly for those in BAME communities who make up just 5.4% of the creative industry despite London’s population being 40% BAME in London, for example. It’s good to acknowledge the damaging role unpaid internships play in social mobility within the creative industry. A damaging role which intersects across class and race. To counteract this damaging system it’s important to champion and make space for those in lower-income backgrounds and BAME communities whilst on your internship when possible. 


Call out and report injustice 

Another way to counteract the broken internship system is to call out and report injustice when you can. 

Requesting minimum wage when appropriate (or the London living wage when interning in London) is a great way to encourage lawful practice. However, this can be hard in an environment where unpaid internships are so normalised, and often interns can quickly become unfavoured if they complain. Therefore it’s best to negotiate a fee in a professional environment either at the beginning of the internship or as soon as you feel your duties are those of a ‘worker’ instead of ‘shadowing’. By calling out injustice you can pave a fairer and more inclusive path for yourself and all the interns who will come after you. 

But if you don’t feel comfortable making a request or complaint, have been ignored or dismissed some organisations can help - 

Here’s a list of some great websites which advertise paid creative internship opportunities:


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