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Working for nothing is never a good idea

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have received the invaluable advice 'If you work for nothing you'll never be idle' when starting out in the working world, but this sound and sage observation is now being turned on its head.

The suggestion that giving one's labour in return for no pay is a good thing really, has crept into public consciousness, the practice being couched under the coy heading of 'internship'.

The concept of internship began in the medical profession and made a lot of sense in that context. Student doctors were placed in hospitals for the summer to experience what it was like to see someone gushing blood in an A&E department.

However, the spread of the practice of taking on interns amounts to little more than a way of using slave labour. I was astonished to hear a colleague of mine, who writes for a right-on magazine, giving out about how an intern incorrectly transcribed an interview tape. Wow, all those years banging on about the rights of impoverished coffee-bean pickers in Honduras and now they were using interns to do their donkey work.


You'd expect that class of thing from an unreconstructed old capitalist such as Bill Cullen who, of course, has been a vocal advocate of people working for nothing on the grounds that "the experience will do them a world of good". But a bastion of all that's politically correct? Oh dear.

And using Irish interns is yet another form of social apartheid. After all, if firms -- and the media and publishing industries are particularly guilty -- aren't paying people then how are they supposed to afford bus or train fares and feed themselves, never mind pay for accomodation and the rest of their bills?

Why, I'm sure mammy and daddy will look after the rich little dears while they spend a summer or more pretending they're living in an episode of Sex and the City or 30 Rock, but kids from working class backgrounds can't afford that luxury.

Don't be conned into thinking that being an intern is an aid to advancement; they just want someone who'll be the office dogsbody without having to put their hand in their pocket.

Be an intern, you'll never be idle. Mind you, you won't be able to live either.