As you know, for a long time bookcareers.com has said a two week unpaid placement is bordering on acceptable. You might have noticed that, since the beginning of the year, even these have been removed from the bookcareers.com website. This is because we no longer endorse any unpaid work, unpaid work experience placements or unpaid internships. This includes opportunities where ‘reasonable travel and lunch expenses will be paid’.
The only time we will make exception is when, as stated by the National Minimum Wage guidelines, this is organised as part of your college or university study. But even then, if you are going into a place of employment regularly, and are expected to fulfil tasks that otherwise would have been completed by a paid employee; we will expect you to be paid. At the very least this should be the National Minimum Wage.
Frequently, we have seen an increasing abuse of unpaid placements. From being asked to do tasks which no one on work experience should do (clean the toilets) to having to accept a placement where your travel costs far outweigh the expenses paid. We are regularly seeing structured placements with set tasks at set times, which borders on breaking the guidelines of an unpaid placement. We have also seen a number of grey areas, where both employers and individuals are saying ‘it’s ok because…’. We hope our actions remove any question of ambiguity or misunderstanding.
It has also spread to the point where people believe that they MUST complete an unpaid placement to work in the publishing industry; this is not so. I recently overheard one member of an Editorial Team from a major publishing conglomerate giving the advice that the only way to get a job there as an Editorial Assistant was to work there for free first. Yes, a major publishing conglomerate, with shareholders, profits and dividends, who are aiming to promote diversity on one hand, in practice appear to block all access to diversity with the other.
The people fulfilling these opportunities are rarely fresh-faced with no office or life experience; almost to the point where we are seeing ‘career interns’, individuals who have spent months, or in some cases over a year, drifting from unpaid placement to unpaid placement in order to get a foot in the door because it is preferential to unemployment.
Yes, the publishing industry has people pounding on the door, saying ‘let us come and work with you for free’ but just because there are people willing to do this it doesn’t mean we should exploit or accept their very kind offer. If anything, the industry should be acting with more of a sense of responsibility not to exploit or abuse this generosity or naivety. This includes inviting willing hands to ‘come and help out during a ‘busy period’ when there is a ‘major book launch’. Companies used to pay temporary staff for that; if someone is doing it unpaid they are taking the place of a paid opportunity.
The whole situation of unpaid placements has done nothing whatsoever to address the diversity of the industry. If anything, it has compounded and exasperated the whole diversity, class and social mobility issue. The fact remains that diversity within the publishing industry is poor and getting worse.
The only time you should be working for free is when spending time on your hobby or when volunteering for a charity. Publishers (and Literary Agents) are not charities. All work experience placements MUST be paid, at the very least the National Minimum Wage.
If you are on an unpaid placement and would like us to speak to the publisher concerned please contact us in complete confidence, and we will do what we can to alert the publisher of the National Minimum Wage guidelines.