Thursday, 7 June 2012

some blathering about unpaid work

I haven't updated in a while, so I thought I would provide an update as to where I am on my adventure from unemployed loser to employed high-flier. Well, reader, I've taken the first step towards success, I can't tell you how many steps there are left; it's a poorly lit staircase, so we'll see. Anyway using a giant shoehorn-like implement, I prized myself away from the sofa, lest my body become part of the cushioning which I sunk into whilst watching utter shite such as Dating in the Dark and Man V Food. Seems everyone loved me so much at my old job I was asked to go back there, so for 22 hours a week I am a data-monkey for the local council yet again. With the typical working week being 37.5 hours, your GCSE maths qualification is probably telling you that 37.5 - 22 = 15.5, and you'd be correct. What do I do with the left-over time?

Currently, I've decided to get gripping the greasy pole. Not an actual greasy pole of course, the thought of someone with my balance, strength and overall climbing ability doing that sure is a comical thought. No, reader, I have not lost the dream of gaining a degree-relevant job, and have decided to "volunteer" in my local constituency's office in order to try and make my CV a tad less pathetic, and a tad more political. Many of the most competitive industries now require experience before you can even start drawing a salary in them, and it seems politics is no exception, even for a job as a constituency assistant with a measly £16k salary. Doing work for free to gain skills is a highly contentious issue, from unpaid internships to the controversial workfare programme introduced by David Cameron's government towards the end of 2011, both of which seem to side-step minimum wage laws. Proponents of extreme laissez faire economics would argue that the most unskilled and uneducated people price themselves out of the market by expecting to work for at least minimum wage, but is anyone so bloody useless they don't deserve £6.19 an hour to perform menial tasks? Then again, I have seen The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Of course the things that fresh-faced graduates will to do gain "valuable employment skills" are hardly comparable to fully grown adults stacking shelves in Asda with the threat of otherwise losing their benefits. You will no doubt have seen in the news the poor unemployed souls who were bussed into London facing horrific conditions to work on a Jubilee Pageant, and if you haven't you can read more about it here. Who do the proponents of this scheme think they are fooling when they claim such work is actually useful to the individual?

However, unpaid work from a young graduate's point of view can be quite different. My own experience has involved constituency casework, political research and writing summaries of legislation, all at a comfortable pace which would in no way would replace the work of a paid individual. Trying to stay positive, I'm viewing this as free training, as opposed to doing a Master's Degree to bulk up the ol' CV where I would be paying an institution to learn more to become overqualified and still probably unemployed. Obviously not being a total moron I already know how to write letters and google things, but I think it has been useful to learn a certain style of writing and get used to using certain sources and overall I have a great time working there, the people are great. I know my experience is not typical of unpaid internships - I went for one interview for an unpaid internship with a certain frontbencher where just the interview involved writing a press release, letter to a constituent, 3 questions to ask the prime minister to elicit statistics regarding job centre closures which could then be attacked, a quote summarising the state of the economy, and a tweet about something happening in the constituency in just one hour. Sounds difficult, doesn't it? I didn't get the gig, but I assume the job I would have been doing constituted a large portion of an MP's work who gets paid £70k a year to do it whilst I would have got a measly £6 a day for tube journeys (whilst I slept on my friend's sofa for three months as I don't live in London). But then, why would she have paid someone to do it when there are those willing to do it for free? It's just fiscally irresponsible. Unpaid internships like this have become an uncomfortable reality, and even those who champion meritocracy are doing it - I'm looking at you left-wing thinktank Demos and certain Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs!

Unpaid internships have been criticised as barriers to social mobility, especially in politics where so many jobs already belong to male, rich, white guys who were probably privately educated, leaving the povvos of our nation unrepresented in parliament. I'm not rich or privately educated (or male, or even technically "white"- I am one eighth black, true story) and I'm still hoping to get some sort of vaguely political work eventually, even if it means living with my parents like a total loser for the foreseeable future, so we'll see if it really is possible. My advice is not to shy away from unpaid work and try and find some that does not take the absolute piss, which does not expect too much from you and can fit around part-time work. If you really want it, you may as well try. Of course, in six months time when I'm still working for free and eating out of bins we'll see what I have to say about unpaid work then, but at this time I'm feeling rather positive. If anyone reading this would like to share thoughts/experiences, I would love to hear from you.

Join me next time for more adventures in (un)employment!

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