Voluntarily Exploited

In English  | 

Text Bianca Beyer

Kuvat Alisa Tciriulnikova

In an ideal world, everyone has equal chances and equal pay. In the real world, life is unfair; and the opportunities you get very much depend on where and as who you were born. Luckily, some people realize this and are willing to help smoothen the inequality: They donate their clothes, buy fair trade products and hope the word ‘fair’ actually means something for real. No matter whether it is our time or our money we donate, doing charity usually means giving something we can spare to others who need it.

One branch of charity work could therefore been defined as volunteering. Yet, be aware: This is not to be confused with other situations in which you end up working your butt off without getting any kind of compensation. Usually they come in the sexy cover of (unpaid) ‘internships’, ‘networking’, ‘train your skills’ or other bloomy paraphrases.

Volunteers can be needed without any special skills e.g. helping the Red Cross collect donations by standing in front of a supermarket, or because of their special skills e.g. after catastrophes, as a doctor or mechanic. Sometimes they arise from their own situation and focus on their peers, for instance, students returning from a semester abroad wanting to be involved in taking care of incoming students. The main idea is usually to offer one’s (wo)manpower without getting any personal profit from it, for the sake of a good deed.

However, recently companies and organizations have gotten wind of people willing to work for free, and started to utilize this for their own special needs. It’s sneaky, and it makes sense – the biggest cost cuttings can after all be made in staff, that’s why we love producing in countries with cheap labor, right?

And if you think no one would be so stupid to work for free for a for-profit organization, or the public sector, you are far off. Young people who lack experience are willing to pimp their CVs. Getting ahead of their peers by a few inches is what counts after graduation.

In TellUs Innovation Arena, ‘volunteers’ can for example apply to be connected with companies and then work as something like a host(ess) during events, or produce media content. Writing blog entries clearly requires writing skills, something that should commonly be paid for. Handing out sparkling wine during an event does not require any special skills, nor does it teach any. The target group for this ‘voluntary work’ seems to be students from social or human sciences – engineers usually get their project work paid.

A fair middle way would be something like a trainee position, with a special on-the-job-training and a slightly lower compensation than a fully trained employee. After all, even apprenticeships are paid in Finland.

Unpaid internships of 50+ hours per week are not uncommon, and a usual promise is ‘experience’. This is as if job offers would, besides the salary, announce that there’s free oxygen and toilet usage. The problem with ‘voluntary’ work advertised by companies is that the skills acquired are usually either not very useful in any other job, or so generic that a special training is not really needed in the first place. In the worst case, already existing skills are simply exploited.

Published 24.11.2016

Bianca Beyer

When I don’t sit over plans to erase all evil and meet unicorns, or dream of eating cotton candy, I believe in hard facts and science, doing my PhD in Accounting at the University of Oulu. Using writing as an information transmitter, outlet for creativity or simply for mere entertainment, I believe I am totally living the dream with all my current jobs. Blog: beapproved.wordpress.com

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