Internships ‘ripping off young people’

A campaign calling for the fair treatment of interns has been launched following concerns that interns are being exploited through unpaid work.

The Trades Union Commission (TUC) and National Union of Students (NUS) will also launch a free ‘Rights for Interns’ Smartphone application, which will offer tools to help people evaluate their own internship, as well as general guidance on work rights they are entitled to and minimum wage rates.

The TUC and NUS fear that many employers have sought to take advantage of graduates’ desperation to find work in the economic downturn and so see interns as a useful source of free labour.

Others may be unaware that non-payment of interns is a breach of the law and of national minimum wage rules, warns the TUC.

The trade body says that any intern who is undertaking work-related tasks, with set hours and a duty to turn up and do the work is ‘probably defined in law as a worker and, as such, is eligible for the minimum wage, working time and paid holiday rights’. The TUC believes any internship that does not simply involve observation and work shadowing should qualify for payment.

TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady adds that too many employers are ‘ripping off young people’ by employing them in unpaid internships that are ‘not only unfair but, in most cases, probably illegal’.

‘Internships can offer a kick-start to a career that many young people value. But as more and more graduates are being forced to turn to internships in place of traditional entry level jobs, we’re concerned that a growing number of interns are at risk of real exploitation,’ O’Grady says.

‘It is vital that we crack down on those internships that offer little but hard graft for no reward. Employers need to know that there’s no such thing as free labour.’

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