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The forlorn intern

The forlorn intern
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The Forlorn Intern. When Yamini Palanki started her internship with a pharma giant recently, she was looking at a two-month work. Three days later, an...

Hyderabad: When Yamini Palanki started her internship with a pharma giant recently, she was looking at a two-month work. Three days later, an HR representative told her that the company could not reveal confidential information and that she will have to make do with the study material. She was offered a certificate for a 60-day period much in advance. Palanki is one of the many student-interns who have no recourse to a law in case of unfair treatment by an employer.

With education curricula for engineering, management, law and accountancy (to name a few) reserving credits for internships, students are made to take up tenures in various organisations that have no obligation towards them.

With no legislation to define the role of an intern or an organisation, the agreement, terms and conditions are largely left to the two parties, where the organisation has an unfair bargaining power. From irrelevant tasks to downright demeaning jobs, some students are forced to take up responsibilities in organisations that, far from providing them any relevant experience, ill-treat them. Although the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, mentions apprentices, it applies only to industrial establishments that employ at least 100 workers. Private companies and corporates do not come under its purview.

Candidates opting for A-list institutions like IIT, IIM, ISB and IISC are not only provided relevant opportunities, but are entitled to a stipend along with paperwork that details their roles, responsibilities and rights. This, albeit, is a privilege reserved only for the cream. Students standing one tier below face a different situation altogether.

An analyst with a consulting firm, PSS Somaraju, says, “I did my internship with a stock-broking firm. I was given sales targets. My project report was based on performance of bluechip stocks. I ended up bringing about 20 accounts, but I wasn’t paid a penny,”

Civil lawyer Anjana Taggarse believes that working terms/conditions should be laid down even before a demand for payment for interns is made.“There is no legal recourse that can be taken by an individual if an organisation decides to abandon the intern midway, refuse payment, ill-treat or harass him/her”. Things can even take an ugly turn if an intern is sexually harassed, as she can only file a case under IPC.

A mini-industry of illegal shops have sprung up that mint fake internship certificates for students looking to sidestep the gruelling process. It is next to impossible for universities to identify fake certificates. This has resulted in colleges doling out students each year who aren’t job-ready.

To pay or not to pay

In the Walling Vs Portland Terminal Co. Case filed in 1940, the US Supreme Court ratified Portland Terminal Co’s stand not to pay its interns/apprentices, making an exception to the Fair Labour Standard Act. The court gave guidelines to establish whether an intern deserves to be paid.

The internship may include actual operations, but should still amount to training. It must solely benefit the intern. He/she must not replace a regular employee,, but must work under the close staff supervision. The employer must derive no immediate advantage from the work of an apprentice. The employer and the intern must come to an agreement on whether the latter should be paid.

Mythili Sankara & Aditya Parankusam

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