Stop exploiting us

The date was September 4, 1929, widely dubbed as ‘Black Tuesday’, which marked the start of years of doom known as the Great Depression, when poverty levels shot up due to landlords and industries exploiting the working classes, resulting in a chaotic chase after non-existent money.

Fast forward 80 years to September 2008, the start of the ongoing global economic crisis. Now, four years later and not much has changed – at least not companies’ exploitation of graduates – I speak specifically of the design industry here.

Consider the scenario for the TU’ design school graduates.  It’s obvious that during a recession, design firms are the first to be affected, with companies laying off many of their employees, leading to firms taking on interns only, instead of recruiting for full-time jobs, while paying interns less than a quarter of the real deal, yet getting the same work done, if not more, as by regular employees. Sure, internships are good practical learning experiences, but interns have lives too, in which they must pay rents and monthly expenses. Internships aren’t financially suitable for graduates, especially internationals who’ve paid hefty sums for their educations. So why do we continue with internships? For the majority, it’s only a ray of hope that they’ll eventually be offered a real job later by the same firm. But reality is far from that. Companies make the most of this situation and get work done for much less pay, or, in other words, they exploit graduates. Dutch people enjoy unemployment benefits and certain concessions denied to internationals, which partly encourages companies to exploit fresh graduates.

How to stop firms from abusing their power? In the United States, the design fraternity frowns upon those who intern after graduating, which helps reduce the number of graduates falling into this trap. Germany and Belgium have rules forbidding graduates from doing internships, which has led to most of their international graduates returning home or choosing other countries because of the non-availability of full-time jobs.

Foreigners especially are lured with the hope of permanent jobs, only to be sent back home once internships end. So how to deal with this dilemma of falling into the internship trap and settling for really low pay? Perhaps move to India or China, where opportunities are plenty but low paid – still better than an internship, though. We don’t do this because we want to work in environments with good design cultures. So what to do? Work in restaurants part-time and do internships part-time, so to make more money while remaining partially active in our fields of interest? Or switch fields to one that still makes use of our skills?

Raghuveer Ramesh

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