Firstly, I apologise for having not posted anything in nearly three weeks. It has been a pretty busy couple of weeks so I haven’t had much chance to get on here and write a new post. I can’t quite believe how long it’s been since I wrote anything, that time seems to have flown by!
So, one of the main reasons for why I have been unable to write is that after having a few interviews a couple of weeks ago, I was accepted to start a creative writing internship at a business close to where I live. The company was a vintage furniture shop, and while that was located around half an hour from my home, their offices, where I would be working, were around a 20 minute drive from my house. Needless to say, I was extremely excited about starting this opportunity, and even though it was an unpaid internship, with only travel expenses being paid, I had a feeling it was going to be a fantastic opportunity to finally get myself out there. Having spent months applying for positions and never hearing back in what was becoming a never ending cycle, it felt good to know that I would be actually doing something again, and most of all, working doing something that I’m passionate about. My first day was Monday 18th November, so a little over a week ago, and it surpassed all expectations, and any nerves I had about starting there were soon dispersed. I was working with a small team of fellow writers, as well as photographers and visual merchandisers, and I like to think that I got on with all of them well. It was a relaxed, fun environment to be in, and the work was enjoyable to undertake. Having never written about vintage furniture or decoration before, getting in the swing of writing in a certain way to match these products was a tiny bit daunting at first, but it soon became a lot easier, and for the most part I enjoyed writing the blog posts that I was assigned to do, or that I was coming up with as new ideas myself. It was all going so well, and as geeky as this sounds, when I got home from working every evening, I couldn’t wait for the next day to come to get back to work.
As I said, everything was going well, perhaps too well, as things soon took a dramatic turn for the worse. The start of my second week (Monday 25th November) was the same as all of my other days has been, that is until it got to around lunchtime. My manager, who had interviewed me and offered me the internship, told myself and the two other writing interns that from now on we would have to take it in turns to work in the companies shop one day a week. At first, we all thought that he had meant going to the shop to observe how things worked, and most of all see the pieces that we were having to write about on a daily basis. Myself and one of the other interns, who had started on the same day as me, had already gone to the shop and spent a good few hours looking around to get a feel for the place, something which we had had to do on our very first day, so the fact that we were being asked to do this again, and do so weekly, was a little bit confusing. It soon became clear however that he had meant working in the shop, as in working behind the till and assisting customers with enquiries. He stated that it was part of our internship, and had been mentioned in our interviews, as well as the contracts we had signed before starting work there. Needless to say we were not pleased to do this, as despite his telling us it had been mentioned to us and was in our contracts, none of us had heard of this before that moment. I can honestly say that not once in my interview was I told that it would be required of me to work one day a week in the shop for the duration of the four month internship. Having since also re-read my contract, it is never mentioned there either. Lets be honest here, what has working in a shop got to do with a writing internship? Unfortunately, nothing could be said right there and then, as our manager soon after dropping this bombshell on us dashed out of the office, having somewhere of ‘importance’ to go to. Nothing more was mentioned for the rest of the day, and in all honesty it completely slipped my mind.
The next day (26th November), however, it all kicked off. Big time. Myself and the other interns all arrived at work on time, as usual, but our manager had not yet arrived. After having been at work for around half an hour, all three of the writing interns, including myself, were called by our manager and put under real pressure to go to the shop to work. One of my fellow interns was pressurised to go to the shop that very moment, while I was told to go there the following day, which would have been today. We both tried to argue against this, with the main reason being that we were not going to be paid for working eight hours in the shop, despite the fact that there were two other workers in the shop, who were in fact paid, and most importantly, that it is illegal to not pay a worker for undertaking a full days work in a shop environment, unless contracted to on a voluntary basis, particularly where charity organisations are involved. Despite our protests, he would not listen, and after a pretty intense discussion with the third writing intern who had been there a month longer than us, we were told that if we did not like it then he was happy to let us go. After two hours of waiting, (he was never on time for work, may I add) he arrived and asked to talk to us individually, rather than have the group discussion we had agreed to have on the phone a few hours before. Having had conversations with the other two interns after, it became clear that he was trying to intimidate us into staying, and despite all three of us bringing up over and over again that it was against the law to do what he was doing, as well as the fact that no mention of having to work in the shop had ever taken place, and that we were not contracted to do so, he never backed down that he had made it clear that working in the shop was a major part of the internship. Quite frankly, everything he said to us in our individual talks was a massive lie, and it’s quite clear that the company as a whole were taking advantage of the fact we were unpaid writing interns, to get us to do free labour for them in their shop as well. After all of our individual discussions, which we all undertook with an adult manner, as opposed to his child like tantrum where he was throwing his toys out of the pram, we were all asked to leave the premises, and told to make our final decision that night and return the next day if we changed our minds. Needless to say, none of us went back.
So here I am now, pretty much back to square one again. It was only a three day a week position, and like I said an unpaid one with the exception of travel costs to and from the offices, but it had been a start, a start that has come to a very abrupt end after just over a week. If anything though, it has made me dead against unpaid internships. I had never fully agreed with them, and had only really undertaken this one due to the travel expenses, the close proximity to my home, and the fact that I would be doing something I love, that had no catches involved. Looking back now, I feel that we were made to feel as comfortable about working there as possible, to not arouse any suspicions, and then when we least expected it, have a bombshell dropped on us, which is definitely what happened to myself and the other two writing interns. I have made a vow to myself that never again will I apply for an unpaid internship. They are wrong, and take full advantage of those that they employ, and the news that in a few months time a law will be passed to make all unpaid internships illegal is music to my ears, as I am sure it will be to everyone else who has been in a similar position. To all of you reading this that may be taken advantage of at an unpaid internship right at this very moment, I know it may seem like a great first step in the right direction of your chosen career, but do not do anything that you are not contracted to do, or anything that is against the law where standards of employment go. I had to stand up for myself with this internship, to show that I wasn’t going to go along with anything that would be taking advantage of my skills or my time, that I wasn’t going to back down to intimidation over comments that had never taken place, and that would be breaking the law basically. Hopefully the company that employed me, as well as all others that have done the same to their unpaid interns in taking advantage of them for free labour, will have the law on their backs when the act is passed to make such internships illegal. That will teach them a lesson now, won’t it?