Why ‘ban’ unpaid internships, when they’re already illegal?

Why ban unpaid internships when they're already illegal?CAMPAIGNERS INTERN AWARE EXPLAIN WHAT’S GOING ON

Confused by talk of a new ‘ban’ on unpaid internships, since most of them are already illegal?

We were too – so we asked our friends at Intern Aware to clarify. They’ve explained that there are good reasons behind the new round of proposals, kicking off with a House of Commons private member’s bill due to be proposed in Parliament on Friday.

Here is the deal.  Alec Shelbrooke, a Conservative MP and supporter of the campaign for a fairer deal for interns, is seeking popular support among politicians to at least establish that something must at done to tackle this situation (yes, a mere six-and-a-half years after we started campaigning on this issue). And on Sunday the employment minister Damian Hinds confirmed that Theresa May’s government would consider a ‘ban’ on unpaid internships.

Why? Because although various MPs have lent their support to our campaign over the years – including Alec, Stella Creasy, Hazel Blears, Jo Swinson, Andy Burnham and Liam Byrne), this support has never been formalised. The thinking now is that doing so could make it easier to introduce measures that would help interns, including tightening the law and even increasing penalties for employers who break it.

TROUBLE BREWING: Interns have had enough of waiting for the wages they are owed

TROUBLE BREWING: Interns have had enough of waiting for the wages they are owed

Simplifying the process for interns wishing to report unpaid internships and claim back pay (wages they are owed from internships they’ve done) could prove to be particularly effective. Although this wouldn’t immediately stop unpaid internships from happening, a higher volume of back-pay cases should deter employers from taking the risk. As Ben Lyons, co-founder of Intern Aware, explained:

“Unpaid internships are usually illegal but the existing law is very hard to enforce because it requites interns to self-report, and HMRC to make a judgement on every individual working relationship. We need a clear rule from government that says that long-term unpaid internships are illegal.”

As Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald told the Guardian at the weekend, any action on unpaid internships is very welcome – but long overdue. She said:  

“It’s good to hear these comments [from Damian Hinde] but frankly it’s about time. Young people have been crying out for this issue to be addressed for years, and unpaid internships are flagged in pretty much every report on social mobility, as a barrier to good jobs.”

She also reminded the government to make use of the wealth of knowledge and expertise that campaigners have collected in the last six year, saying:

“Campaigners regularly remind the government that we are perfectly placed to explain exactly what the problems are, and what could be done to improve the situation, but so far they have shown little appetite for this information. So if that is finally changing, we look forward to their call.”

Proposed solutions involve educating employers abut the law on internships (too many still believe that calling something an internship means it needn’t be paid) and making it easier for interns to take action against former employers.

The government could also look at dishing out much tougher penalties for employers who fail to pay the minimum wage, and extending the reporting system to allow anyone to report an advert for an unpaid internship (currently only interns who have worked unpaid can report their own internship, retrospectively).

It is likely that Intern Aware’s the addition of a ‘four-week limit’ clause to the existing minimum wage law would be one of the first proposals to be considered. This would mean that anyone doing a job for more than four weeks will automatically be classified as a Worker, and the employer must award them back pay immediately.

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