Sir, –Una Mullally (Opinion & Analysis, July 23rd) says that unpaid internships threaten all employees. It is interesting to note that there is no Irish legal definition of “internship”, and there is no special status that allows internships to avoid minimum wage and other requirements of full employment.
An employee is someone who does work. The definition may not apply where the person is only “observing”, as in the case of a student shadowing a professional, but in the case of “researchers” or “assistants”, it most certainly does.
Only government-administered back-to-work and apprenticeship schemes provide exemption from minimum wage legislation, as employees on these schemes are supported by other payments.
Some might consider interning to be similar to “au pairing” as an informal arrangement that suits both parties. However, the courts have repeatedly and firmly maintained that regardless of how mutually beneficial such agreements might be, legally they constitute employment.
Organisations that engage unpaid interns are exposing themselves to future claims for unpaid wages, sick pay, holiday pay, employer PRSI and possibly additional compensation, fines or penalties. An organisation foolish enough to publicly advertise such roles is also advertising its own incompetence and its disrespect for people and the law. – Yours, etc,