The publishing company forced by the courts to pay a former unpaid intern over £2,000 in pay and damages has failed to apologise for using her for free labour. Instead, a spokesperson for the organisation claimed they had done her a favour in granting her the placement – and insisted that banning unpaid internships would leave graduates in a worse position than they are already.

Last week, Graduate Fog reported on the landmark case where 21-year-old journalism intern Keri Hudson successfully sued her employer MyVillage for failing to pay her for several weeks’ work she had carried out for them. The courts ordered the company to awarded her back pay, holiday pay and damages.

Following the tribunal, NUJ legal officer Roy Mincoff warned it sent a “clear message to media companies that if they treat interns like cheap labour, the NUJ will take you through the courts”.

But it seems MyVillage are not going quietly – and appeared to imply that the court ruling was unfair. They also displayed a shocking lack of understanding about the arguments against unpaid internships, which Graduate Fog believes exploit those who do them – and exclude those who can’t afford to do them.

In a statement that will shock many of Graduate Fog’s users, Nia Williams, editorial director at TPG (which owns MyVillage) said:

“All interns on the site were volunteers and we do not accept that we exploited any of them.

“However, we would like to comment on the payment of interns and, as such, welcome [Thursday’s] ruling as we believe it will lead to further debate and much-needed clarification on the issue.

“Interns are not used by all companies as cheap labour, as reports suggest.

“Internships are set up to give graduates work experience, allow them to try their hands at a specific career and basically improve their employability — particularly valuable in these difficult times for those looking for jobs.

“A lot of time and resource goes into training unqualified and inexperienced interns to prepare them for working life and this is done at company expense.

“In the case of My Village, interns not only benefited from getting their work published and attributed to them but they were often treated to free lunches and event tickets from the venues they reviewed.

“Some interns from MyVillage.com have been offered full time work because of the experience gained.

“The most recent case being that of one intern who joined leading mortgage industry magazine Mortgage Introducer as a full-time reporter.

“However if publishers are to be punished for helping inexperienced volunteers gain work experience, these opportunities will become few and far between.

“The outcome will be more graduates in the unemployment line with no experience to their name. What chance will they have?”

However, there were some signs that Williams may be in possession of at least half a brain cell, when she pointed out that the laws on internships (which are covered by NMW legislation) appear to be at odds with the actions of the Government itself:

“The Government’s own Graduate Talent Pool website advertises a large number of unpaid internships.”

On this one, she had a good point. Why IS the Graduate Talent Pool effectively undermining the NMW laws?

She also claimed that My Village had been approached by Skills Team – the government funded training organisation that trains and places people in internships – to place three interns for 12 months with no payment, just travel expenses. She says her company declined, saying they did not take on interns for that long. If true, then I would agree that this too is pretty worrying.

Williams then went on to attack the government for its lack of clarity and consistency over what constitutes a legal internship, claiming much of the information is “contradictory”. This is where she lost me. It’s a bit complicated and wordy, yes – but contradictory? The NMW legislation seems pretty clear to me. Anyone doing the job of a ‘worker’ must be paid at least the NMW – end of story – unless they’re working for a non-profit organisation or charity.

If Williams had said the Government was guilty of sending mixed messages on internships to businesses, I would have agreed 100%. Too many companies are still not clear on the law. The Government has not been vocal enough about publicising these details – and informing businesses about what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to internships. Worse still, in recent months we have seen the politicians themselves running internship auctions – and the Prime Minister himself admitted to helping out his neighbour’s child by offering an unpaid placement in his office. Is it any wonder that businesses are so confused about internships, when even the Government can’t be consistent?

Are they trying to scare young people into keeping quiet about their rights to pay – or are they right in saying that banning unpaid internships could actually be bad for graduates long-term?

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