The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has shocked Graduate Fog by publicly advertising a nine-month unpaid internship, paying travel and lunch expenses only. The CBI is the UK’s foremost business lobbying organisation and which “speaks for 240,000 companies of every size” – representing them both nationally and internationally – so it is an astonishing error of judgement.
When questioned about the internship – posted on the shameless ‘jobs’ website w4mp – a CBI spokesperson told Graduate Fog that the ad “did not meet the CBI’s practice on employing interns, and was posted without the knowledge or authority of the CBI’s HR team.” He insisted, “The CBI firmly believes that internships can provide a valuable work experience but we fully accept that the terms, conditions and specifically the duration need to be comparable with the experience offered for permanent paid employment.” The ad was later removed – but here it is in full:
Posted on: 22 September 2011
Closing date: 4 November 2011
Policy and Lobbying Internship
Working For: CBI Northern Ireland
Salary:Travel and lunch plus bonus upon successful completion of 9 month period
The CBI – the UK’s premier lobbying body – exists to promote an economic environment in which businesses can successfully compete and grow. We develop policy positions in close collabortion with our members of all shapes and sizes – issues range from tax and fiscal reform to climate change and energy policy – and then use these evidence-based positions to influence the government. With 13 regional offices and 4 international offices, our footprint is both local and global for maximum influence.
The Belfast office leads our lobbying of Stormont and also links in with UK-wide and global issues where relevant. With a new Executive in place and the prospect of devolved corporation tax powers in the pipeline, its an exciting time to come on board and get to grips with the growth agenda. You will have the opportunity to engage with senior businesspeople as well as Ministers and officials, and will also be tasked with important duties for anyone’s CV such as event management and PR/communications.
Interview / Start Dates:
CVs will be shortlisted and interviews offered to appropriate candidates at a time that suits them. Skype interviews can be done for those unable to attend our offices. References will be required prior to appointment.
Please send an up-to-date CV and a short cover letter outlining why you want to work with us.
Send to [contact details removed by Graduate Fog].
We thought the ad was pretty alarming – and were at a loss to see how the CBI might feel this internship fitted with the National Minimum Wage law, which says that anybody fitting the criteria of a ‘worker’ must be paid at least the minimum wage (£6.08 for over 21s). So we dropped them a line:
From: Graduate Fog
Date: 27 October 2011, 11:11am
I am contacting you from Graduate Fog – the website for job-hunting graduates – regarding the advert on w4mp.org in which the CBI appears to be recruiting for a “Policy and lobbying internship”, paying expenses only:
It appears from the advert that this role will last for nine months – and that the person will be doing proper work (as opposed to just work shadowing):
“You will have the opportunity to engage with senior businesspeople as well as Ministers and officials, and will also be tasked with important duties for anyone’s CV such as event management and PR/communications.”
We would expect our readers to be shocked to see that the CBI – the “Voice of business” – is advertising so brazenly for a role like this, particularly during a time of such high youth unemployment.
With this in mind, we have two questions which we would be grateful if you could provide answers to:
1) Can you provide more detail about the sort of tasks that this intern will be required to complete while working at the CBI – and will they have set hours?
2) Why does the CBI feel it is reasonable to expect this intern to work for nine months without pay?
We very much look forward to your response.
They wrote back:
To: Graduate Fog
Date: Tue, November 1 12:54pm
This advertisement you queried with us did not meet the CBI’s practice on employing interns, and was posted without the knowledge or authority of the CBI’s HR team.
We have asked the w4mp.org website to remove the advert from the site as soon as possible.
The CBI firmly believes that internships can provide a valuable work experience but we fully accept that the terms, conditions and specifically the duration need to be comparable with the experience offered for permanent paid employment.
Youth unemployment is one of the CBI’s biggest concerns at the moment and we have just published a major new report entitled Action for jobs: how to get the UK working which you may find of interest. I am attaching a PDF version of the report and there is more information available on our website at www.cbi.org.uk.
The spokesperson was clearly aware that this was a a major gaffe – but a serious question remained. Would the internship have gone ahead if we hadn’t drawn their attention to it?
From: Graduate Fog
Date: 2 November 2011 10:49am
Thank you for this response. Can I confirm that this internship will now definitely not be going ahead? Or, if it is going ahead, that it will be paid at least the National Minimum Wage?
Also if we had not brought this advert to your attention, would the internship have gone ahead as outlined in the advert? What is the CBI’s response to that thought?
And can you also confirm that the CBI does not employ any interns paid less than the NMW?
The CBI replied:
To: Graduate Fog
Date: 3 November 2011, 10:31am
The internship is definitely not going ahead. Our response on becoming aware of the arrangement in the HR team would be as it was when you raised it with us. If the internship had started we would have offered to pay a salary of at least the NMW for the whole period of the internship.
I can confirm we do not have internships paying less than the NMW in the UK.
It’s vital the CBI gets their stance right on unpaid internships. Confirming the organisation’s attendance at the Prime Minister’s youth unemployment breakfast tomorrow, John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:
“With unemployment figures set to show yet another disappointing rise, we need action for jobs now.
“We’ll be making the case strongly to the Prime Minister that job creation, especially for young people, must be a major plank of the autumn statement.
“We are calling for a new Young Britain Tax Credit to encourage employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year-olds to help them secure that all-important first step on the jobs ladder.
“Businesses are also ready to play their part, becoming ambassadors to inspire young people about the world of work, offering more apprenticeships, meaningful work experience and fostering better links with schools. There also needs to be further reform of the benefits system to make work really pay.”
Graduate Fog is pleased that the CBI has acknowledged their own mistake in advertising for an unpaid role and has acted swiftly to correct the situation. However, we feel this error raises serious questions about the CBI’s recruitment process – and the decency of the people who work within the organisation. Who posted this ad? Would the internship have gone ahead – unpaid – if we hadn’t drawn their attention to it? And it is unclear to us how payment for the position would have magically materialised upon the interns’ start date, when the ad clearly stated that the role was unpaid. We also assume that several staff members must have seen the ad before it went live. Does this suggest that there are some fairly senior people at the CBI who don’t know at the National Minimum Wage law says that workers over the age of 21 must be paid at least £6.08? Or did they just assume they’d get away with flouting the law, like so many other organisations do?
*Major gaffe – or something more?
Was this a simple mistake – or the moment the CBI’s mask slipped? What do you think went wrong – and would the internship have been paid or unpaid, if we hadn’t stepped in?