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London Zoo Unpaid Graduate Job: Is It Fair or Just Free Labour?


Published by CultNoise magazine.

When embarking on a career, most students know that it could be a long time before they earn a decent salary. They know that along with further education and professional career goals comes obligatory unpaid work experience placements and internships in their undergraduate years of study.

It’s a great pleasure to do what you love for a living and, with that in mind, there’s a general consensus among students that they don’t actually mind paying their dues – provided they are treated like a professional and paid accordingly when they graduate with a degree. But when does ‘paying your dues’ come to an end? Well, according to London Zoo, not even after a master’s degree.

ZSL London Zoo has been heavily criticised this week for posting a job listing seeking an intern with a graduate or postgraduate degree in biology or a related subject to help run a major conservation project. And the salary for this job? Not a penny.

Instead of a fair pay package, the successful candidate will be expected to work full-time hours in exchange for a measly £5 for lunch and a Travelcard to cover the costs of commuting to and from the zoo.


In their defence, a representative from London Zoo said: ‘As an international conservation charity, we are grateful for the donation of time from our dedicated volunteers and are appreciative of whatever availability they have.’

While London Zoo is a charity, funded by vital donations and volunteer support, to specific for a graduate with a master’s degree to work on an unpaid basis is plainly unfair and unjustifiable.

Of course, London Zoo absolutely deserves funds and support to continue their conservation projects. But under no circumstances should trained professionals be expected to work without pay – especially when their job is so important to the conservation of endangered species.

elephant for cultnoise

Another shocking aspect to this story is that this unpaid intern job for a master’s graduate is being offered in London, despite the city being not only the most expensive city in the UK but the third most expensive city in the world to live in. Considering this, is it realistic or fair to expect anyone to work in London for free when the cost of living is staggering?

The issue of fair pay has certainly been in the public consciousness in recent weeks with many companies including Monsoon being named and shamed for not paying a fair minimum wage, and it appears that many people – including professionals and experts in prestigious fields – are still fighting to be paid anything at all.

In response to the job listing, members of the public were outraged, and rightly so. The least a graduate should expect after four or more years in full-time education with a mountain of student debt is a salary above the minimum wage – never mind no wage at all.

When students work so hard to achieve the grades to enter university in the first place and then spend several years studying hard, juggling part-time jobs and a social life, and somehow squeezing in work experience relevant to their degree, refusing to pay them once they graduate as a professional or expert in their field is insulting – despite how much it’s dressed up as ‘valuable experience’.

The sad reality is that the more graduates willing to work for free in the name of gaining experience, the more employers will chance their arm at advertising free labour for jobs that should be paid; something which seems to be happening more and more.

If someone is volunteering for a charity like London Zoo or seeking experience to accompany their undergraduate study, working for free can be very valuable and rewarding. But an employer seeking a qualified professional as an unpaid intern who should and could be paid is not acceptable. This job listing effectively sends out the message: ‘Why enter into further education at all? Just volunteer with us. Either way – you won’t be getting paid.’

No matter the field, graduates should not be expected to ‘pay their dues’ forever.

What do you think about the controversial London Zoo job listing? Let us know in the comment section below.


  1. Wow. Since the last world-wide financial recession, there seems to be an increase in the number of these “opportunities.” Unless your company is a start-up, and you can barely afford to pay yourself, this is inexcusable. Free internships for college credit are ok up to a point where they are part-time jobs and have flexibility for the employee. Expecting someone to work a full-time role for free is ridiculous!

    This also closes off access to good jobs for people who cannot afford to work even five hours for free. A lot of poor students work to supplement their family’s income, some even support their parents financially. A student in this situation is not going to give up 10 to 20 hours of paid work if it means giving up rent or grocery money they can earn elsewhere. They’ll work at the local supermarket, or as waiters in restaurants, and they may remain stuck there if the requirement for getting your foot in the door is working for free.

    We blame the poor a lot for staying poor, yet we continue to close off avenues for their becoming middle class or wealthy. Boggles my mind.

    I was very fortunate to have landed paid internships in college. I told my career counselor I absolutely refuse to work for free. I was lucky- I caught the eye of people who could connect me with some good companies. Most people don’t really have those chances. I was one of two to four students of color and other overachievers who were recommended for these. I’m not sure what the rest of the 20,000 students in my school did.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Unless your company is a start-up, and you can barely afford to pay yourself, this is inexcusable.” I couldn’t agree more. I have and continue to work for free but only for largey student-run, start-up publications and I’ve always said that I will not work for free when I graduate. It’s starting to feel like no matter what avenue you go down, earning a fair salary is becoming increasingly difficult.


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