It’s an oft repeated cliché in sport that fans would work for their club for free, but this week Tigers have decided to put that to the test by advertising for an unpaid intern on their website. This intern will be expected to write content for the website and other publications such as the match day programme, write content that helps sell the club’s conferencing and marketing arm and help to publicise the good works the club does with charities. They will also have to work, whoops volunteer, on match days and edit videos for the club’s internet based TV channels.
Now increasing the coverage of the club’s good works, such as the Dynamite club and the Hitz scheme aimed at 16-19 year olds not in education, employment or training, or the Playing 4 Health scheme involving Year 3 & 4 primary school pupils is a great idea and something the club is really missing out on at the moment.
Equally having someone full time to increase both the quality and quantity of the YouTube and LTTV output is a very good idea. Anyone who has seen last year’s efforts would surely agree.
The problem is that key word: unpaid.
There is a debate about the morality of unpaid interns but the legal case is quite clear. If it looks like work, sounds like work and smells like work then its work. And work gets the minimum wage and pays tax and national insurance.
Much as we might consider the Tigers a charity given the money we all put in without wanting a return the club isn’t a charity, it is a limited company and turns a profit more often than not and companies pay tax and national insurance. This intern will have “flexible hours”, a thinly veiled attempt to bypass the government’s rules on volunteering and work. This is a job. The intern won’t be allowed to turn up when they like, do what they want when they want, use whatever materials they want or send somebody else to do their job instead so it qualifies as work.
Some will say “where’s the harm? Both parties benefit” and there is truth to that, the intern does benefit from gaining real world experience and contacts within the industry they want to work in, but there are plenty of mutually beneficial transactions that are illegal, a consenting adult buying a spliff is mutually beneficial to him and the drug dealer but we as a society have made it illegal because of the wider issues it brings.
Unpaid work is the same. By making the exchange the currency of learning and experience rather than the currency of, well, cash the club is taking advantage of its younger fans and their acceptance of this new normal to boost its bottom line and to stop it having to have a full time employee with troublesome things like employment rights and tax. Unpaid internships undermine the social contract of this country that work pays and that workers have hard won rights.
As I say above by my reading of the government’s definitions this intern will qualify for the minimum wage and the club runs the risk of a prosecution being brought if it fails to pay the fair rate.
But my little rant about the evils of unpaid work is beside the point.
The minimum wage is only £6.19 per hour. The club can afford to pay for this position. By making the position unpaid what the club has achieved is limiting the potential pool of applicants to only those whose parents or partners can support them for 9 months whilst they don’t earn. What about the students who don’t have access to the Bank of Mum & Dad? They don’t have the choice of doing an unpaid job as you can’t buy a tin of baked beans or pay your rent in experience. By limiting the pool we’re fishing in we’re reducing the chance of catching the biggest fish. That doesn’t sound like the Tigers way to me.