September 16, 2013

Interns - David Cameron wants you to report exploitation

Rosemary Bennet explained things in The Times. 'Cameron urges interns to report exploitation' was the title of the article, published September 16 2013. She said:
"David Cameron will urge unpaid interns to report their employers to the authorities if they are being asked to do a job rather than just work experience.

He has thrown his weight behind a TV campaign this autumn that will inform young people of their rights and employers’ responsibilities when they accept unpaid positions.

The campaign, which will be led by Channel 4, will call on unpaid interns to call the national Pay and Work Rights Helpline if they are being exploited, and the employer will be investigated. The Department for Business is working with the broadcaster on the production.

Mr Cameron revealed his commitment to the cause in a letter to Hazel Blears, the MP for Salford and Eccles, who has been campaigning on the issue. It is the first time the Prime Minister has acknowledged that there may be a problem for the 100,000 young people who work as unpaid interns as they try to get started on their careers. He had previously said that he was “relaxed” about internships, having benefited from one himself at his father’s stockbroker company.

In the letter Mr Cameron said that “exploitation of interns is unacceptable”, but he defended the advertising of unpaid internships. If advertising was banned, employers would simply recruit young people “through informal and privileged networks”.

The Prime Minister has previously admitted that he gave a neighbour an internship in his constituency office with no formal recruitment process.

HM Revenue & Customs is currently investigating 100 companies for not paying interns who have been required to carry out proper work. Some have had to pay thousands of pounds in back pay. The Government has also changed the law so that companies who breach the law can be named.

Ms Blears welcomed Mr Cameron’s support and the campaign, but added that a legal definition was needed of what an intern was, and under what circumstances they should be paid under the minimum wage legislation.

“The law was drawn up in 1998 when there weren’t interns in the UK,” Ms Blears said. “Now there are thousands and it would be reasonably straightforward to give them a definition in law, set time limits on how long they can work before they should be paid, such as eight weeks or so.”

The law makes clear that, if people have set hours and are given set tasks, they are workers and must be paid. However, Ms Blears said that employers seemed to be using a caveat in the law covering volunteers to avoid paying interns who are carrying out work.

“Some companies are claiming people are volunteering. There is a lot of obfuscation around. HMRC is pursuing some cases energetically, and some not. Clarity in the law would let everyone know where they stand,” she said.

The PR industry, once one of the worst offenders in requiring thousands of interns to work unpaid, has recently drawn up its own code of conduct and pledged to bring the practice to an end. 
Mrtin Frizell, executive director of GolinHarris, a PR company, urged other industries to follow suit. His company’s “Bright Young Things” internships aims to recruit graduates from diverse backgrounds and pays the London Living Wage.

“If you don’t pay your interns, you are excluding the 95 per cent of people who can’t afford to work for nothing because they don’t live in London,” he said."

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