Why working for free doesn’t pay

Why work for free?

Work for free – but in the long run will it really be worthwhile and get you a job?

It’s great news all-round on the jobs front this week. With the latest instalment of its ‘Action Plan for Jobs,’ the Government promises 10,000 jobs in the IFSC over the next five years. Meanwhile, global management consulting firm Accenture announced 250 new positions by the end of the summer.

Unemployment is down and there’s lots to be excited about on the jobs market.. so what exactly it going on?
I found that running in tandem with the clear upsurge is an increase in the number of internship and JobBridge offers. In many cases, the people applying are not just fresh out of college looking for experience; rather, they are people who are looking to get back on the career ladder after years in the cold, but are insecure about their skill sets and tantalised by the promise of potential employment.
There was one position in an “award-winning company” which was “going from strength to strength”, looking for someone to play dogsbody for €50 a week. If you’re award-winning, can you not pay your staff, I thought. Another internship position offered practical experience, diary management, account management and telesales for nine months on a nine-to-five basis for no payment.
So you get worked like a rented mule for a job you could easily be getting paid for elsewhere.
I was horrified when a friend told me that she has been working in a digital marketing firm for the past eight months for free. I asked her was it some kind of training thing. No, a start-up, she said. “Are you learning anything you didn’t already know?” I asked. “No, I have to teach him stuff,” was her reply.
Now in her 40s, she said she was out of a job for so long that she had lost confidence and thought working for free while getting the dole was better than just being on the dole. I suggested she would be much better off doing a course with Solas – the State training agency – than working on someone else’s dream for nothing but the promise of a good reference. I remember a successful man telling me once: ‘If they don’t pay you, they don’t value you.’ He was so right.
If the free work comprised of being a ball girl at the World Cup final, fair enough, but why anyone should work as someone’s skivvy and not get paid is beyond me. The JobBridge national internship scheme has banned 44 companies from partaking because of widespread exploitation of interns.
When I did a little research, I saw one job had been advertised within the scheme looking for a cleaner. Granted they were forced to take it down, but how utterly disgraceful nonetheless.
Working as an intern can be hugely beneficial if the person is actually learning something that will help them get gainful employment in the future. But these days, so few can afford it, so it can perpetuate inequality. Even people living outside Dublin can’t work for free in Dublin because of the high cost of rent. Being able to eat, drink and live while you work is generally helpful.
When you work in the creative arts and entertainment, it’s part of the path. ‘Work for free and you’ll never be idle,’ they say. I’ve often been told things like “the last guy had a really good time taking photos for free,” or “this time next year, we’ll have a budget for you,” but in the meantime would you like to take time out of your day, utilizing your skills and expertise for absolutely nothing? No thanks. I did my internship years ago.
A friend who works in film said you have to prove you’re capable and willing, so you’ve a chance of being considered when the next big thing comes along. “I’ve been doing it for nine years now, so hopefully it’ll pay off soon.”
If it’s any consolation to her, Katy Perry didn’t get paid to play at the Superbowl on Sunday. As with Beyonce and Bruno Mars before her, the NFL merely covered the multi-million production costs and performers played ‘gratis.’
Anonymous sources recently reported that the NFL wanted to find an artist willing to sign away some subsequent touring income or make “some other type of financial contribution” in exchange for the opportunity, so she actually did well to just not get paid.
Luckily, we don’t have to worry too much about Katy’s finances. Last year alone, her earnings exceeded €30m. Nonetheless, it made me ponder the fact, that no one is spared doing the odd free gig for the purpose of ‘great publicity’ and possible ‘career progression’.
I spoke to a stylist, who told me she worked for free when one of the world’s top photographers was in Ireland. It was an honour to work for him, so people were lining up. The guy gets vast amounts per shoot and he’s getting people to work for free for him?
Even a JobBridge internship pays €50 per week plus social welfare. You can’t help but think that half the time, someone is having the last laugh and it’s not the free worker. When you’re starting a business, an extra enthusiastic pair of hands, willing to offer their services for free, is worth gold, but are they really benefiting or are they just doing your dirty work?
When you talk to people about not getting paid, everyone has a story. Some are owed thousands by suppliers, others are owed a few months wages by their bosses.
There are people who spend their days making calls, sending registered letters and generally losing their minds trying to reach someone who’s disappeared off the face of the earth. The recession certainly favoured the bust, who could just walk away shrugging their shoulders, while others were left.
I say hire people to work for free if you can offer them something in return. Otherwise, if you can’t pay them, don’t hire them.
Irish Independent