Unpaid internships ‘breaking minimum wage law’?

Like 40,000 other students who graduated from university last summer, I am still trying to land my first full-time job.

As a stop-gap, I’m is working for free for a clothing company doing marketing. It’s just something you need to do at the moment to get experience.

The government is eager for others to follow in My footsteps and sees internships as a means for new graduates to earn valuable vocational experience which I completely agree with.

Eighteen months ago, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills set up the Graduate Talent Pool, a website for England that is currently advertising just under 9,000 intern vacancies.

However, approximately a third of these posts offer only expenses including my own at Orchard Clothing, even though they can last for six months or longer.

There are concerns that many graduates from less well-off backgrounds, as well as those burdened with thousands of pounds of student debt, cannot afford to take advantage of these opportunities.

Graduate exploitation?

Concerns have also been raised that companies recruiting unpaid interns, like myself, are actually breaking the minimum wage law.

As we are expected to work full-time office hours, Monday to Friday, with a list of specific duties.

The legal definition of what constitutes work includes having set hours; being engaged for an extended period of time and being given a defined role rather than just observing.

The law says anyone who is “working” must be paid the national minimum wage – for anyone 22 or over it is currently £5.80 an hour.

Recruiting graduates to work for free for periods of six months or more has led to accusations of exploitation.

The TUC says it is concerned about the number of unpaid internships advertised on the Graduate Talent Pool website.

It has been successful in getting some advertisements taken down that it believes breached rules on the minimum wage.

Matt Dykes, a policy officer from the TUC, says more needs to be done to stop graduates being exploited.

“This sends out entirely the wrong signals to young job seekers and to employers, appearing to condone the practice of not paying people for the jobs they’re doing.

“Much more needs to be done to ensure employers know that these kind of internships are unacceptable.”

David Lammy, the Minister for Higher Education, told 5 live’s Donal MacIntyre programme: “If there are things going on, we want to know. We will take down those employers off the site, and it is important young people recognise and know their rights.”

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