Are we worthless?

Are we doing society a big disservice by taking unpaid work? Photo: Duncan Cumming

A recent entry on Facebook from a fellow student, announcing that they’d signed up to become a volunteer at the London 2012 Olympics, piqued my curiosity.

A little investigation lead to the discovery that tens of thousands of unpaid volunteers are being sought to run the next Olympics. They are called “Games Makers”.

So what is the commitment required of a Games Maker? They have to complete three days of training and agree to work at the Olympics for a minimum of 10 days. The Games Makers have to find their own accommodation for the duration of the event, and pay for it themselves. They also have to travel to London at their own expense. The organisers will provide both meal vouchers for the Games Makers while they are on duty and free transport to the venues at which they will work. Games Makers will get to keep their uniforms.

What kind of jobs will these unpaid workers do? The organisers make it clear that the work on offer is going to be anything but glamorous. There’s talk of photocopying and directing visitors. It is made clear that the Games Makers will see little of the athletes or the events. All this and for no tangible reward. Even placing the details on a CV is unlikely to make someone stand out from the crowd. Especially when you consider the organisers need 70,000 Games Makers.

To me, this is symptomatic of the current trend in our society where people are expected to work for someone else’s benefit for no pay. The Olympics is a business venture. An enormous money making enterprise that attracts billions of dollars in marketing revenues. The Beijing Olympics attracted marketing income of nearly $5.5 billion dollars. And they cannot pay people to work at the London 2012 Olympics?

Does everyone who works for the London 2012 Olympics do so for free? The answer is no. Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), earned a total of £777,964 in the financial year 2009-10. I’m sure that he is worth every penny.

Sebastian Coe, chair of LOCOG, earned £365,507 during the same period. Again, I’m sure that his salary is justified. But if it’s acceptable for these two gentlemen to be suitably rewarded for their hard work, why not the 70,000 people required to make the London 2012 Olympics a success? Surely the necessary but humdrum work of the Games Makers is worth at least the National Minimum Wage?

This has got to stop. No longer should we tolerate the insidious abuse and exploitation of our people. Yes, if you wish to volunteer to raise funds for a charity then do so. If you give up your time to hold the hand of a dying child or to help save a species on the brink of extinction then I will praise you to the heavens.

But if you give away your precious time for free to benefit a commercial organisation then you are both being abused and abusing others. You are taking a real job out of our economy. Taking an unpaid position means that you are both being exploited and making the exploitation of others all the more likely. I know that you might feel pressured into doing this. Taking an unpaid internship in the desperate hope of something better. I know because I’ve been there. I’ve applied for unpaid internships myself. But no more.

Please, if you value yourself, and what you produce, then refuse to give it away for the commercial benefit of others.

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