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Why does the UN think young professionals should not be paid?

Brendan Martin, 12 March 2013

Are you a young professional with strong writing ability, good at oral communication and team work, and willing to be accountable?

If so the United Nations might have a job for you -- provided you don't actually want to be paid.

In the very week that the Annual Meeting of the UN's Heads of Youth Programmes of the UN is discussing the justice of internships in New York, the UN Research Institute for Social Development advertised a temporary position that demands all those qualities -- but no pay.

The successful applicant can start next month and will:

  • Assist with outreach and communication tasks.
  • Assist with updating and maintaining the UNRISD website and social media.
  • Draft briefing papers and news articles.
  • Liaise with the media and other organisation.
  • Plan and create posts for social media.
  • Contribute ideas to strengthen social media presence.
  • Support the planning, creation and promotion of podcasts and video products.
  • Support the planning and organization of the UNRISD Seminar Series and other events.
  • Assist with monitoring, updating and maintaining Content Management System (CMS) databases.
  • Review, edit and proofread content contributed by UNRISD staff via the CMS for online posting.
  • Liaise and work with UNRISD staff in order to ensure publicity of ongoing work and new initiatives on the website.
  • Assist with the preparation of new information and content for the website.
  • Proactively use, contribute to, maintain and update the publication and communication calendars with which UNRISD plans communication activities.

Isn't that a job? UNRISD itself seems to think so, since as well as fluent written and spoken English and a working knowledge of French or Spanish, the advertisement says the canidate should have 'professionalism'.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera earlier this year, Erick Zeballos of another UN agency, the International Labour Organisation, said: “The use of young people for duties that do not involve a significant training component or that are normally performed by paid employees should be remunerated accordingly."

Perhaps Mr Zeballos could call UNRISD and inquire about the "significant training component" of its Communications and Outreach internship, because there is none whatsoever mentioned in the ad for the job!

Does the UN want to send the world's young people a message that working for nothing is the way to get on? If so, how exactly does it expect to ensure equal opportunities in its own offices?

Shouldn't our global institutions be setting a better example?

We would very much welcome feedback from the UN -- and a representative at our workshop on Fair Trade Internships on 11 April would be very warmly welcomed. We believe it is time for a courteous but robust international discussion of this vital topic.

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