Step change in the plight of interns


The government is to crack down on employers abusing national minimum wage laws following successful moves to reclaim nearly £200,000 in wages owed to unpaid interns.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is planning to take more aggressive steps after HMRC’s success over the last tax year in helping 167 people who identified themselves as interns, volunteers or work experience workers claw back £192,808 in unpaid wages. BIS says that over the coming year it will launch a social media campaign, publish a student hand-out and encourage people to name bad employers for investigation.

Internship had been a growing route into employment since the mid 2000s as many employers made it an integral part of their recruitment processes.

In a letter to Labour MP Hazel Blears, the employment relations minister, Jo Swinson, said the government would produce the booklet to make graduates aware of their employment rights in time for this summer, when hundreds of thousands of UK students are expected to start hunting for work experience placements, which can last – unpaid – for many months.

A recent survey of more than 150 young PR professionals has revealed that internships are poorly paid, lack diversity and do not even necessarily lead to a role in the end. Just 28 per cent were paid at or above the minimum wage, with almost as many (23 per cent) receiving no payment at all. Ten per cent had been paid expenses plus a small stipend, which was less than the national minimum wage. 15 per cent were paid the national minimum wage. 13 per cent received more than the national minimum wage. If you think the PR industry is unique in this respect, think again. The sector is no different  than others,  and may be better than most.

Under employment law, people who work set hours, do set tasks and contribute value to an organisation are “workers” and  so are entitled to the minimum wage. This means even if your internship was just about being expected to turn up at a certain time and add some numbers in Excel you are likely to be entitled to pay.

So far, every time an intern has taken their employer to court for not being paid the minimum wage they have won.   So employers should beware ( including a few MPs!). It is good that companies employ interns but they should be treated fairly and employers must operate within the law. Many top  companies, perhaps most, expect job applicants to have done three or four internships, before considering them for a  permanent job , and graduates are no exception.

The National Minimum Wage rate per hour depends on your age and whether you’re an apprentice – you must be at least school leaving age to get it.

From 1 October 2013 the Minimum wage will be:

Aged 21 and over   £6.31(£6.19)

Aged 18-20           £5.03 (£4.98)

Aged under 18       £3.72(£3.68)

Apprentice             £2.68 (£2.65)

The Apprentice rate is for apprentices under 19 or those in their first year. If you’re 19 or over and past your first year you get the rate that applies to your age


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