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Student News

Unpaid internships could soon be illegal

Unpaid internships could soon be made illegal, on the grounds that they force out competition from young people who can't afford to work for free.
unpaid internshipUnpaid internships could soon be made illegal on the grounds that they give young people with wealthy parents an unfair advantage over those who can’t afford to foot living costs.

On Friday, MPs will debate the complete banning of unpaid internships amid concerns that they offer early career boosters to only the wealthiest of students.

In what’s been dubbed the ‘National Minimum Wage (Workplace Internships) Bill’ (catchy, eh?), they’re proposing that any company hiring interns should be forced to pay at least minimum wage – which ranges vastly depending on your age.

Read our ultimate guide to internships for students – arm yourself with the facts!

What MPs are saying

damian hinds MPCredit: ITV
The bill is being proposed in a quest to give young people from less wealthy backgrounds an equal shot in more competitive industries such as media and fashion, as it’s thought that many young talented people won’t even apply as they lack the financial support to be able to afford living costs while working for free.

Employment minister Damian Hinds spoke about the new bill on ITV’s Preston on Sunday program. He said:

In the media, in fashion, in these very sought-after occupations, these unpaid internships aren't actually accessible to everybody.

It's important for social mobility that everybody has a crack at getting into the particularly competitive industries.

Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke, who is sponsoring the bill, also called unpaid work a "scourge on social mobility" and claims “it's time to end this exploitation of young workers.”

On the subject of whether imposing a ban on unpaid internships could perhaps limit opportunities for young people as companies might no longer be able to afford interns, Mr. Shelbrooke has said:

There are a number of businesses such as KPMG, Ernst & Young and Pimlico Plumbers that already offer paid internships, showing that there really is no excuse for profit-making companies not to pay their workforce.

However, it's not the big shot firms like KPMG that young people are likely to be worried about missing out on as a result of the ban. Rather, it would be the smaller players in fashion and media, who could potentially abandon hiring interns all together as a result of the change in the law.

What’s the law currently?

what is the law for internshipsCurrently, the law regarding unpaid internships is actually a bit tighter than you probably think, but the issue is that it’s not so widely understood - by interns and employers alike.

At the moment, the law all depends on a major grey area of whether an intern can be classified as a ‘worker’ or not, and this is all judged by your role and daily duties as an intern – find out if you classify as a worker or not.

Any intern who can be classified as a worker is in fact already entitled to minimum wage. If you think you were entitled to payment for your internship but weren’t, you can claim up to six years after your placement.

Will the bill pass?

internIt’s hard to tell if the bill will actually be passed or not at this stage, but it’s worth knowing that this isn’t the first time a ban on unpaid internships has been proposed.

Back in 2011, Lib Dems attempted to impose the ban during the coalition, but it was blocked by then Prime Minister, David Cameron. Cameron said he was ‘relaxed’ about unpaid internships:

In the modern world, of course you’re always going to have internships and interns – people who come and help in your office who come through all sorts of contacts, friendly, political, whatever. I do that and I’ll go on doing that. I feel very relaxed about it.

He then added "I’ve got my neighbour coming in for an internship.”

Of course you do, Dave.

Have you had any issues regarding your worker status as an intern? Leave a comment below or drop us a line

Katie Paterson

WRITTEN BY Katie Paterson

Katie Paterson is an accomplished writer from Glasgow. She studied English Literature at the University of Strathclyde, then went on to do a Research Masters in Literature at the University of Amsterdam. As Lead Editor for Save the Student, Katie has covered topics from career tips to ways to make money go further as a student.
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