‘Interns are worth paying for’

PETALING JAYA: A clear and comprehensive policy on regulating internships should be drafted to put an end to possible labour exploitation by some companies that underpay or do not pay interns during compulsory industrial attachment, says a student.

The final-year student from Universiti Malaya, Rashifa Aljunied, said that at the moment, undergraduates undergoing industrial training are in a grey area, allowing some companies to take advantage of their contributions by not paying them.

She emphasised the need for laws to protect them, as they occupy an undefined space between being an employee and a student.Undergraduates in most courses are required by universities to undergo industrial training in order to get their degree at the end of their programme.

“For me, whether it’s creating a new Bill or including provisions for interns under the Employment Act 1955, I want to pressure the government to frame concrete laws to protect interns.

“There also has to be a provision where zero allowance for interns must be prohibited,” she said when met yesterday.

The international and strategic studies student had started her own campaign advocating for a dignified allowance for undergraduates undergoing industrial training at her university.

She started the advocacy campaign to pay interns fairly after experiencing it herself, where she found out that some companies were not paying interns despite the fact that their job description matched that of permanent staff.

In the spotlight: Rashifa wearing her placard around Universiti Malaya.In the spotlight: Rashifa wearing her placard around Universiti Malaya.

Rashifa went around campus wearing a placard with writing that said “Intern Bukan Buruh Percuma” (Interns are not free labour) and posting photos on her Twitter account to create awareness about the matter – to mixed reactions from the public.

While some supported her move after reflecting on what they had gone through during their internships, others were of the opinion that paying interns would only lead to additional costs for companies, especially small businesses.

On that matter, Rashifa said that Malaysians need a change of mindset – as the interns would never affect companies negatively, as they would also contribute to the company’s productivity just like other employees.

“We need to change the mindset that says hiring interns lead to companies suffering from losses.

“Interns are a part of the company’s investment.“The government could also introduce a tax break to encourage more private companies to pay their interns. From here, it will complete a cycle of mutual benefit,” said Rashifa, who hails from Johor Baru.

She also said that she had been receiving overwhelming support from MPs.

However, she said the MPs’ support for the cause did not equate to “legislation change”.

“I hope in the next parliament session, this issue can be debated by the MPs. At the end of the day, a lot of students are affected by this issue,” she said.

Among the MPs that have responded to Rashifa’s plight are former Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) on Nation-Building, Human Resources and Education chairman Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah.

Asked if undergraduates are allowed to select their companies for internships, Rashifa said that would be a privilege.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t have the privilege to be empowered. We need to talk about B40 students or those from outside of Kuala Lumpur and other major cities.

“This is a perspective that we need to change. Making a choice is a privilege because not everyone can decide to do their internships at a place near their homes,” she said.

Rashifa’s online campaign has gained a lot of traction as others have supported her cause and also shared their internship experiences.

Earlier, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had urged companies to consider giving interns a reasonable allowance to cover their daily needs while they are on industrial training programmes.

He also said that while the government did not establish clear terms and regulations on the payment of interns, companies must also look into the welfare of trainees and new graduates.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin echoed the same sentiment, saying that the government was not in a position to force companies to treat interns the same as employees.

Responding to a media question on whether his ministry would review the policies of industrial training, Mohamed Khaled said: “Interns are not the same as full-time workers; therefore, they are unable to earn equal wages.”

Meanwhile, Human Resources Minister V. Sivakumar said that his ministry is committed to looking into the issue of allowances for students who undergo industrial training.

He said the matter must be given serious attention as it has also been raised at International Labour Organisation conferences.“These interns (students undergoing industrial training) cannot be considered free labour. We will look into this matter, and I will give some feedback soon,” he said on Sunday.

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