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I’m An Intern. Pay Me!

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Popular restaurant chain Artcaffe on Wednesday afternoon August 5 found itself on the wrong end of uproar from many Kenyans on Social media after suggesting exposure and cup of coffee as a reward in their latest art and design competition.

The restaurant chain reignited the long standing feud between interns and companies in Kenya over the idea of payment for work done…in money, not exposure.

The restaurant in their series of tweets expressed their undying value for designers and artists but what was clear for everyone to see is that they were trying to exploit them as slaves.

Artcaffe restaurant at Lavington mall, Nairobi. Source: EatOut Kenya

Kiss FM presenter Jalang’o further added salt to the injury by supporting Artcaffe’s move, terming it as a means for everyone to struggle while working to earn that exposure just as he did and not money.

I’ve had several arguments with both my parents who believe that the last internship I was in shouldn’t have paid me in cash. One was like ‘it’s not a real job’. The other ‘you learn how people work. You don’t go there for money’.

I’m Not Working For Free

Unpaid internships sound like a good idea but only to the privileged of us. The bitter pill the ‘baby boomer’ generation is refusing to swallow is that internship or not, nobody in the world is working for free. I for one am passionately against working for exposure and without pay.

We’ve been taught by the baby boomer generation to glorify struggle as a certain thread by @W_Asherah below that the harder you work for it the more you deserve it. People take their struggles as a game achievement of pride and feel those below them who’ve had it easier are weak.

People act as though they enjoyed the long unpaid hours barely surviving and it was all worth it because they’re successful. Truth is, most people working in those kinds of conditions are barely successful and never will be.

Source: Medium

Unpaid internships, just like police conduct on citizens serve so much as to broaden the wealth gap. Most people cannot afford to work for free…actually everyone living on the eastern and northern side of this city cannot work for free.

What they’ll do instead is go for low grade jobs which will pay and forego the profession that would have paid them higher in the future…because they need to eat!

Independence

One of my first internships had me working for what was just exposure. That was two months after I left high school, awaiting my then IGCSE results that would move me on to university. I had no idea how to make money because I handled as much as the pocket money distributed every week while back in high school.

My parents made sure I was as privileged as possible by hiring their personal driver to drop me off at work, until one day my father decided to scrap that and ordered me to commute. A whole struggle I never saw coming.

Matatus at Nairobi CBD. Source: Tuko

For a guy who was so used to handling a limited amount of caution money, how would I learn to budget food and fare for almost a whole week?

For a while I had no money to call my own. I resented the job. Not just because it represented how useless my high school rigid struggle was, but it also had a boss that made sure I was overworked each day.

I knew he could pay me, but because he viewed me as a mere high school graduate, he decided not to. Another intern I worked with was paid the same as a starting employee. We lived two different lives…and he was a year younger.

I was lucky it lasted five weeks as I was set to join campus in September, otherwise I wouldn’t have known how to push through. I got my real shock of handling money on my paws during the first week when the harsh reality of university life greeted me with a backhand on the cheek.

I was conditioned to be totally fine with working for free only to discover in my next internship that they actually pay interns. It was a digital media house, quite popular with netizens. The CEO almost deflected on the issue of paying interns by narrating a story of how interns at another media house are not paid. I stood my ground.

To Pay Or Not To Pay?

I’ve seen and experienced arguments around choice. That people get into unpaid internships willingly and knowingly. There’s no argument on choice without context. A lot of my fans I interact with are from privileged backgrounds who’ve never tasted poverty at face value. That, alongside desperation and inequality force people into situations they don’t desire, especially economic ones.

Source: File

Yes people do work for free knowingly but it is our duty to ask why they are doing so, and if that is really a choice. Is it though when your other option is to sit at home, watch Netflix all day and have no income earning prospects…or a career in the future?

There’s a reason that labour laws exist for example. You could choose to work for Ksh2,000 but you shouldn’t. Protective measures are in place to guard people against economic exploitation.

Many people are locked out e.g. of the media industry because of the lengthy unpaid internships that exist that can most times only be survived by children from privileged households.

You can’t be at the same level when you’re worried about food and shelter every day. Unpaid internships make people choose between starvation today and poverty tomorrow, in many cases.

Many organisations can pay their interns and artists but choose not to. They do it because they can get away with it and will be defended by footsoldiers of capitalism who would have us work in loincloths if that’s what they had to do in 1945.

There is no positive side of unpaid work. Yes, it has worked for people and they’ve emerged from it and struggled but to wish exploitation on others because it happened to you is childish. Yes, you read that right, childish.

Various careers at the Nation Media Group. Source: Nation Media Group

Glorifying Struggle

People think that struggle built their character and made them better. No it didn’t. You just struggled.
Character can be built in other ways. You’re still stuck on the oppression of others. If that’s a better version of you, I don’t want to meet the person you were before.

By listening to people’s experiences of unpaid labour it tells you everything needed to know that all it does is keep the poor people poor!

I would never have someone work for me for free, even though offers have come, because I know that it’s exploitative and you can decline situations where you can’t adequately compensate people for their work and their time.

Source: Business Daily

Employers make it seem like they’re being forced to give unpaid labour. They’re not. It’s a choice. If you cannot afford to pay, you cannot afford to hire. It’s not that complicated.

United Nations, one of the biggest organisations in the world offers unpaid internships…or offered before COVID-19 struck. I see people desperately trying to apply for them and I just look at them and say a silent prayer for them. Such internships have a target audience, just like Blankets and Wine, among other expensive concerts have target audiences. One wonders why the gap between the rich and poor never narrows, ever widens. We’re hyping about how Kenya can get to First World levels but we can’t even fix the largest of inequalities, leave alone tribe.

Anyway it’s pointless complaining and trying to fix something that refuses to be fixed. Just like women who hate being told the truth. I’ll be typing from my Kabambe smartphone when you need me.


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