Report claims unpaid internships are breaking the law

Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters could be opening themselves up to lawsuits by taking on unpaid interns, according to a report published today.

The report by the the Institute for Public Policy Research warns that in the private sector, all those carrying out work have the right to be paid at least the minimum wage.

It states: "Employers mistakenly believe there is a 'grey area' around internships in the National Minimum Wage legislation and that they are allowed to take on unpaid interns so long as both sides know it is a voluntary position – but they are wrong. The law is in fact very clear and this is simply not the case."

It also says: "Under, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 anyone doing work for an organisation must be paid at least the minimum wage. This is regardless of how a job was advertised, what the job title is or whether there is a contract in place. Charities, voluntary organisations and statutory bodies are able to employ unpaid voluntary workers but private companies are not."

Kayte Lawton, co-author of the report, said: "Too many employers don't understand the law when it comes to hiring interns. There is a mistaken belief that employers can take on people on a voluntary basis if both sides agree – but that's not what the law says. If an intern is doing work for a company, then they need to be paid – it's as simple as that.

"In practice, this isn't what happens because employers don't understand the law and enforcement agencies are turning a blind eye. This is a real shame for all those hugely talented young people who can't rely on their parents to fund an unpaid internship. We should be doing much better for these young people."

The report was co-authored by a campaign group called Internocracy. According to its director Dominic Potter: "We now have entire industries that rely on the willingness of young people to work for free.

"In the long run this is bad for business because it damages the reputation of these industries and makes it difficult for them to recruit from the broadest pool of talent. It also means that young people from well-off backgrounds or with good family connections have an instant advantage when it comes to finding a permanent job."

The IPPR notes in its report that in November 2009, Reading Employment Tribunal ruled, in the case of Nicola Vetta and London Dream Motion Pictures Ltd, that someone employed on an expenses-only basis is still entitled to the minimum wage if they can show they are a worker.

Media companies currently advertising for editorial intern includes:

  • Bliss magazine: 12 weeks, expenses paid.
  • Holy Moly: Indeterminate time period, food and travel paid.
  • Telegraph Magazine: Three days a week for four months (must already have some experience assisting on a homes title), "some expenses" paid.
  • Wohanda.com: Looking for two full-time interns, £10 a day paid towards expenses.

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