Should Interns Be Paid like an Employee?

Published by Afterschool.my on Jul 31, 2023, 10:27 pm

In recent months, the topic of unpaid internships has sparked widespread discussions across various social media platforms and even made headlines in news outlets. At the centre of this debate stands Rashifa Juneid, known as @youngjuneid on Twitter, a final year student from the University of Malaya (UM). Her powerful statement, depicted by wearing a placard that reads "Interns Aren't Free Labour," sheds light on the harsh realities that many interns face in our country.

Rashifa eloquently voices the unfairness of the government's policy to raise the minimum wage for employees to RM1.5K per month, while leaving interns out of this consideration. Some interns receive minimal allowances or no salary at all, making it challenging for them to cover the ever-growing cost of living. As her tweet resonated with numerous young individuals, it also garnered mixed reactions from older generations who expressed both support and disagreement with Rashifa's movement.

Let's delve deeper into the debate: Are Interns Entitled to be Paid like an Actual Employee?"

Check out this video to watch the summary: 

Siding with the interns: “They should be paid with dignity”

Rashifa's tweet resonated with numerous individuals who shared their agreement with her sentiment and their own struggles. Many acknowledged that it was high time someone voiced out about this matter, which had been a silent struggle for countless interns. One individual, Faizal (not his real name), highlighted that unpaid internships can perpetuate inequality, creating barriers for those with limited financial resources. Such internships may exclude students who cannot afford to work for free, further reinforcing existing socio-economic disparities. He emphasised that students who come from less privileged backgrounds already struggle to make ends meet, and unpaid internships only add to their financial burden with daily expenses like transportation and food.

Moreover, the prevalence of unpaid internships contributes to opportunity gaps, where those who can afford to work without pay gain valuable experience and networks, giving them a competitive advantage in the job market. This widens the divide for those unable to participate in unpaid internships, limiting their access to career opportunities. Additionally, unpaid internships may disproportionately impact women, perpetuating gender bias. As women are more likely to take on such roles, this can contribute to gender wage gaps and hinder their professional growth.

The ongoing phenomenon of unpaid internships has far-reaching consequences, creating a ripple effect within our society. It leads to the exploitation of unpaid interns, reinforces socio-economic disparities, and further deepens the existing class-based divide in our society.

Numerous netizens expressed their discontent with certain industries that offer no salary or allowance to interns. Mimie Rahman, a Mental Health Therapist, brought attention to the plight of trainee therapists in Malaysia, revealing that a staggering 90% of them receive no compensation despite having to complete a minimum of 200 hours of sessions at the centre. Mimie passionately argued that centres charging clients RM50 per session, which can amount to around RM10,000, should provide fair remuneration to the interns who contribute their expertise and energy without monetary rewards.

Another individual, Cheryl (not her real name) shared her unfortunate experience of not receiving any payment during her three-month internship as a practical teacher in IPG. She highlighted that having to purchase supplies for teaching aid without any compensation was deeply unfair, which shows the hidden costs that interns have to face. Moreover, it was a common sentiment among many that most government internships fail to provide any salary or allowance.

Some students faced even more egregious situations, falling victim to certain companies that exploited their internship status to extract unpaid full-time work. These students endured bullying from seniors, being burdened with excessive and unnecessary workloads equivalent to that of permanent employees. This outcry sparked a heated discussion among netizens, prompting calls for government policies that set clear guidelines for the job scope interns are assigned. These guidelines would ensure that interns are not exploited with work beyond the limits of a typical internship, and companies violating these regulations would be subject to fines for disregarding employee rights protection laws.

While Rashifa's stance garnered significant support, there were also dissenting voices among netizens who disagreed with her sentiments. 

“Interns Are Working to Learn, Not to Earn”

An impactful voice chimed in on the matter, gaining widespread attention—Abdul Basri, (not his real name) pointed out that interns, by definition, cannot be protected by the Employment Act as they are not considered "employees." Unlike regular employees, interns receive an internship allowance instead of a salary and do not enjoy the same employee benefits. Anas emphasised that this allowance is not mandatory and may vary among companies.

Anas further argued that setting a minimum wage of RM1.5K for interns could lead to unintended consequences. Many companies might be reluctant to take on interns in such a scenario. Why? Interns typically work for a short period, and investing resources in their training could be seen as inefficient when compared to hiring permanent staff who would stay longer.

On the other side of the discussion, a majority of individuals, mainly from older generations, asserted that internships should primarily focus on gaining valuable experiences. They argued that interns are there to obtain hands-on experience while still under a study program, implying that monetary compensation should not be the primary concern.

One person aptly stated, "Interns aren't employees; You do not carry the equal responsibility or bring the equal value as an employee. You haven't even graduated yet."

Amidst the debate, some older generations criticised the current generation for purportedly misunderstanding the true essence and purpose of internships, viewing them as being too demanding.

The discourse on unpaid internships continues to raise critical questions about the rights and experiences of interns in various industries. While some advocate for fair remuneration, others emphasise the educational aspect of internships. This ongoing conversation sheds light on the complexities surrounding internship practices and their impact on both interns and employers.

So, what’s the solution for this?

Recognizing the merits of both sides in this contentious debate, a potential solution lies in reconsidering the compulsory nature of internships within universities. Some countries have adopted this approach, providing students with the freedom to choose internships based on their preferences and financial circumstances. If internships remain mandatory, universities should take an active role in addressing the financial challenges faced by students during this period. One effective measure is offering assistance in funding daily expenses or providing suitable allowances to alleviate financial burdens.

Here's a List of Companies That Offer High Allowances for Interns

You might also want to check out TM Internship Program

Finding an internship can be a challenging and overwhelming experience, especially when you don't know where to start. Afterschool's internship page can help you narrow down your options by industry, making it easier to find a placement that's a good fit for your interests and skills. The page also provides insights into each company, such as their background, career prospects, remuneration, and benefits. This information can help you compare different internship opportunities and find the best one for you, based on your individual needs.

Additionally, it is essential for companies to be transparent in their internship arrangements, including clear guidelines on allowances and other hidden expenses related to the job scope. A transparent approach fosters a fair and equitable environment for interns, ensuring they are not unknowingly burdened by unforeseen financial obligations.

One potential solution to this issue is for the government to implement a policy requiring companies, both in the public and private sectors, to provide fixed allowances to interns. This would ensure that all interns, regardless of their background or the industry they are interning in, are compensated fairly for their time and labor.

By adopting a collaborative effort involving universities and companies, the challenges associated with unpaid internships can be effectively addressed. Empowering students to make informed decisions about internships and providing necessary financial support during this crucial phase will contribute to a more inclusive and enriching internship experience for everyone. In doing so, we can create a positive shift towards a more equitable and rewarding system that benefits both students and the industries they aspire to join.

Are you still undecided about which university to enroll in? Our team of education counsellors can help you find the right institution for you, based on your qualifications, interests, and career goals. Click on the banner below to start:

Latest News

Need help?