Best Practice Guidelines for Internships

Internship GuidelinesIn September 2012 Visual Artists Ireland invited a group of participants to form a Working Group to examine internships in the visual arts sector.  In doing so Visual Artists Ireland was responding to a number of complaints from its members about the treatment they had received while on internship programmes.  These complaints came both from those on the JobBridge Internship Programme and those who had participated in non-government-sanctioned internship programmes.

Interns have become an established part of the infrastructure in the visual arts sector.  As well as assisting growth, they enable organisations affected by reduced public and consumer spending to sustain services.  Therefore, Visual Artists Ireland saw it as necessary to examine the treatment and working conditions of interns.  The Working Group looked at ways in which the welfare and interest of interns could be improved and to provide clarification of the responsibilities of host organisations.

Some of the wider structural implications for the visual arts sector were also considered.  A strategic aim should be to ensure that employment in the arts is seen as a sustainable career choice. Internships should also provide opportunities for people from as diverse a range of backgrounds as possible. Although interns are not regarded as employees of a company / organisation, there are laws relating to the workplace which give them protection and place obligations on host organisations.  These include: the Tax Acts; the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act, 2005; The Holidays (Employees) Acts, 1973 and 1991; and also the Employment Equality Acts, 1998 – 2008, which place an obligation on all employers in Ireland to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

The attraction of a good internship is that it should provide a valuable learning experience.  It should allow an individual to develop new skills, or enhance existing skills that are applicable to their chosen area. It should allow for the development of interpersonal work relationships and help the candidate to learn good work habits such as time management and communication skills.  It should also allow for networking opportunities that will lead to paid employment or help to further the intern’s career in a tangible way.

The Working Group considers the introduction of these Best Practice Guidelines for Internships a vital step in the development of an ethical infrastructure for the visual arts sector. These Guidelines were last revised in May 2021.

Read the Guidelines here: Best Practice Guildelines for Internships (2021)

Notes on 2021 Revision:

The key update on internships and volunteering is to bring the guidelines up to date with current Labour Law. As we have advocated that internships and volunteering should have a real focus, be paid, and respect the rights of individual workers. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) have clearly stated:
“The National Minimum Wage Act applies to all individuals engaged under a contract of employment.
The law defines a contract of employment as any contract whereby an individual agrees with another person, to do or to perform personally, any work or service for that person or a third person.
Apart from the employment of close family relatives and the engagement of registered industrial apprentices, there is no exemption in law from the obligation to pay the national minimum hourly rate of pay. Therefore, national minimum wage rates apply to work experience placements, work trials, internships and any other employment practice involving unpaid work or working for room and board, regardless of the duration of the engagement.
The right to receive the minimum wage cannot be waived in a contract as any provision in an agreement to do so is void as a matter of law.
Failure to pay the national minimum hourly rate of pay is a criminal offence, punishable upon summary conviction, by a fine not exceeding €2,500 or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or both.
In addition, an employee not in receipt of the national minimum hourly rate of pay may refer a complaint to a WRC Adjudication Officer who may order payment of the wages unpaid or underpaid.”
It is also important to understand that under Irish law,
“for a contract (whether verbal or written) to be legally binding, there are 4 elements that need to be present:
1. There needs to be an offer;
2. An acceptance of that offer;
3. Consideration;
4. An intention to create legal relations.”
This means that a contract is ideally a formal written document, but also can be in the form of a verbal agreement or agreement of terms through email or other correspondence.
In practical terms, interns can observe but can’t be asked to do any work. If they are asked, this needs to be paid.

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