Two ministries have cancelled plans to hire law students for unpaid internships after criticism from the Icelandic Confederation of University Graduates. According to the Confederation, unpaid internships are a violation of wage agreements.
The Employment Committee of Orator, University of Iceland’s law students’ union, recently published an advertisement on Facebook for a position as an unpaid intern with the Ministry of Social Affairs. The Ministry was seeking an intern with a bachelor’s degree in law who should be currently studying or have already finished their master’s degree in law studies. The internship would take 3-8 weeks and the advertisement stated that the work is unpaid.
In a message to the Ministry yesterday, the Confederation of University Graduates criticized that a ministry would advertise an unpaid position since employers are completely forbidden from hiring staff for worse rates than wage agreements stipulate. The message also pointed out that an institutional agreement is in place between the ministries and FHSS, The Association of University Graduates Ministry Employees, stipulating that interns should be paid a minimum wage according to their education and experience. The Confederate states on their website that while they feel it’s positive that companies and institutions give students an opportunity to put their knowledge to practical use while studying, the lines between internships and paid professions are unclear. For example, an individual who has finished a bachelor’s and a master’s degree is not a student anymore but a worker on the job market. Therefore, the advertisement breaks both the law and wage agreements.
Gissur Pétursson, permanent secretary of the ministry of social affairs, told RÚV that in light of BHM’s reaction, the ministry is no longer offering the internship. “We have been working on this in cooperation with the university. It’s an opportunity to get work training at an institution and they get school credit, as I understand it. But in light of the reaction from BHM, we’ve decided to abandon these plans.” The Ministry of Transport and Local Government had also advertised an unpaid internship but will not be hiring students for unpaid positions after the this.
Thelma Hlíf Þórsdóttir, president of Orator told RÚV that internships are important for law students. “It’s not completely without reward, students get school credit. Orator is not the only student union offering internships, we follow the rules of the University of Iceland and this is within those laws.
The National Union for Icelandic Students released an official statement yesterday, following the discussion, stating that “it is the clear demand of students that internships in official institutions or for-profit companies are always paid.” In the statement, the Union also reiterated their call for clearer rules about university-level internships, previously expressed in a letter to the Ministry of Education in 2017.