“Intern bukan buruh percuma” , the quote being mentioned in a placard, means that interns are not free labour. It is true that presently interns are not covered under Employment Act 1955 as they are neither employees nor independent contractors as their internship is for the purpose of on-the-job training.
There are also no laws currently calling for an intern to be paid, so the amount provided by a company to an intern is mostly out of goodwill to contribute towards their expenses such as transport, meal or living expenses. As such, there are proponents advocating for status quo or for reformation of the system, either through abolishment of the internship programme or via enacting laws that make it mandatory for interns to be paid fair wages.
This may not necessarily work in favour of the interns or employers.
Some parties advocating for status quo have resorted to name calling stating the current generation as ungrateful while parties advocating for reform are calling the other side capitalist boomers. This is unnecessary, we live in a civilized society, and when an issue is raised, we discuss it and come up with ways to solve it, respectfully.
The call for abolishment of internship as a whole is actually not a far-fetched idea. Internship is a modern concept originated in the medical community during the 1920s. The modern conception of internship only took off during the 1960s.
Most Malaysian universities make it mandatory for their students to take up an internship as a requirement to be a graduate. This is made worse when some universities make their students to take up internship at a particular semester, causing them to hastily find unpaid internship to fulfill their course requirement or altogether give up a good internship offer because some companies are not hiring for interns during that particular time period.
Perhaps one way would be to allow university students to take up alternatives such as starting a project related to the subject matter of their course and writing a thesis. As for better allowances for interns, forcing employers to pay a mandatory allowance will not be beneficial for those with lackluster resumes and will actually harm them and delay their graduation.
The government should be adopting a laissez faire attitude or risk companies boycotting the concept of internship or making it extremely competitive. It is not true that the Malaysian government has done nothing regarding this issue. The recently enacted Income Tax (Deduction for Expenditure Incurred for Provision of Approved Internship Programme) (Amendment) Rules 2023 allows business owners tax incentive for taking on interns.
For now, the internship program must receive approval from Talent Corporation Malaysia Berhad, and the participating interns must receive a monthly allowance of at least RM500. This, in our honest opinion, is the right way to deal with the issue at hand.
The statement “Intern bukan buruh percuma” has called for the nation to understand that interns are not only a part of the workforce that contributes to our society, they are the future of our country. If we cannot take care of our youth, who else will?
Lee Yee Shawn Gerakan Guaman Rakyat (GEGAR)