by Martin Hayes
the intern brought in to help the HR department
organise the warning letters and counselling session minutes
that they leave in big piles on their desks
not having the time to tidy them away into the staff’s files
because they’re too busy writing up warning letters
or chairing counselling sessions
eats rice crackers
and cucumber discs for lunch
because, she says, she can’t afford much else
what with her being on a ‘travel expenses only’ contract
whilst she’s trying to get some experience under her belt
packing up her CV with ticks and hits
which Chantelle, the mother-of-three telephonist, who’s
sharper than the edge of a sword
sucks her teeth up and tells her across the lunch table
that she's fucking mental
working for just the fare in and back home
and then she asks who pays for that?
where do you live?
which the intern explains is complicated
what with all her family living up North
not having enough to sort her out with her own room
so she’s sort of in between homes at the moment
but reckons that the next month is sorted
because she’s shacked up with a bloke she met at Pride - she’s not stupid
and a month is usually the length of time
before they get fed up with you not paying much rent
swerving everything to do with money
to which Chantelle says back
fuck that for a game of soldiers
but the intern tells her not to worry
because it’s only for another 9 months
and then she’ll have clocked up
the 2-years-minimum experience you need
before you can even apply for an HR job
a proper one
one that actually pays
which will help her clear off some of her debt
how she’s looking forward to that
to getting some peace and stability back into her life
some of her self respect back
just hopes she’ll be able to find one
that a company hasn’t got an intern doing
on a ‘travel expenses only’ contract
The proliferation of unpaid internships continues unabated. Companies think that a person needs to have years of ‘experience’ first before they can be offered a salaried job. But you can only get ‘experience’ if you do the job. Whatever happened to entry-level jobs, to apprenticeships, to 13-week probation periods? For years all of these were adequate systems in which a ruthless company could remove a new employee, and without much fuss, if they thought that a new employee wasn’t showing any promise in the role they had been taken on for and were being paid to learn.
The solution nowadays though is different – all the costs have been removed for the company, with the introduction of unpaid internships. But this takes away the opportunity for vast swathes of working-class people to get into journalism, fashion, the media, HR, accountancy, recruitment, even some sports-related carers now require a stint of ‘slavery’ first. And purely because they don’t have enough money behind them, or families with enough disposable wealth to support them while working 2 to 4 years in an unpaid internship. It's a type of slavery that only the well-off can afford to endur, leaving the working class behind to pick up the scraps, take a job in the gig economy, do nothing, become more disillusioned, or if they are lucky, hit it off with a mate of a mate's dad or uncle who needs a landscape gardener for the summer, at £80 cash in the palm three days a week.
But it’s not always like that. Those working-class young people who do have the guts to venture out on the path of an internship – to follow their dreams – they go to great lengths of cunning and quickly learn the dark arts of survival if they are to stand even a chance of making it through to the end. This is a poem about one of those people.
Martin Hayes has worked in the courier industry for 30 years. His latest collection is The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, published by Culture Matters.