Accountancy body calls for end to unpaid internships for students

As college students prepare to look for work experience, professional accounting body ACCA Ireland, has called upon the Government to introduce measures applied in the UK clamping down on the practice of unpaid internships.

ACCA Ireland have also called on businesses to ensure their internship programmes do not “unfairly discriminate” against students from low and middle income families.

They say firms can do this by paying interns at least the minimum wage.

The body say entry to some professional level careers - including accountancy, journalism, law and engineering - increasingly requires a period of unpaid employment and only students with parents who can afford to support them through this can avail of the opportunity.

Aidan Clifford, Technical Director at ACCA Ireland, has said that students with no financial support are being discriminated against.

He claimed unpaid internships are acting as a barrier to social mobility.

In a Eurbarometer survey on fairness, inequality and inter-generational mobility which was announced last month, almost 80% of Irish people said they believed the difference in people’s incomes is too great.

Mr Clifford, said: “Unpaid internships limit the pool of talent available to a company. A wealthy parent is not a good indicator of the abilities of their child.

“When a company’s customers can come from all walks of life, having the majority of staff coming from one single socio-economic group adversely affects their business.

“It is better for a company to recruit the best and not just those with wealthy parents, and a paid internship programme is an effective means of helping achieve this.

The experience of JobBridge in Ireland highlighted the risk of Government subsidising internships for up to nine months.

“Some businesses simply saw this as cheap labour during a difficult economic period, while many young people felt unfairly treated.

“Instead, the Irish Government should consider measures taken in the UK which has seen HMRC sending out guidelines on the obligations of paying interns the minimum wage and setting up enforcement teams to tackle offending companies.

“ACCA guidance is that employers should provide adequate remuneration, set reasonable timelines at the outset and structure programmes to fairly offer training on the job without replacing a full-time employee.”

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