An advert has been posted for a full-time, six-month graduate HR internship at Buckingham Palace, paying just £6.41 an hour, despite it requiring candidates to have relevant experience. That is only 33p more than the national minimum wage (NMW), and well below the London living wage (£8.30 an hour). The Queen is worth over £300 million.

Although the Guardian last week praised the Queen for paying her interns (when so many employers don’t), Graduate Fog is wondering how and when it became acceptable for one of the richest women in the world to pay a graduate staff member such a low wage. Last week we approached the Palace for an explanation, and today they have responded, insisting that the internship is a “training” position, and that their minimum starting salary for a junior HR assistant – “our entry level role” – is £18,000 (No, we don’t quite follow that one, either. Can their HR assistant role truly be called an ‘entry level’ position, if there is one below it?).

Today’s graduates have come to accept unpaid (or low-paid) internships in hyper-competitive industries industries like media, politics and fashion, where there are serious underlying problems with broken business models, a lack of funding and exploitative work cultures. But an HR internship? At Buckingham Palace? Remind us again why they can’t afford to pay their graduates a decent salary? With the London Living Wage at £8.30 an hour, this salary is well below what campaigners feel is a liveable salary for someone to earn in the capital.

The posting – on graduate jobs website Milkround.com – states that applicants must be graduates with “previous administration or office experience… with the ability to work independently or as part of a team and have sound knowledge of Microsoft Office applications.”:

City: London
Deadline: 29 March 2012
Location: Buckingham Palace, London

Internship placement subsistence: £12,500 Per Annum, plus training and benefits

Fixed term for six months, starting May 2012

37.5 hours per week, Monday to Friday

Based in the central HR Office at Buckingham Palace, this internship offers an invaluable opportunity to gain insight into the diverse activities of a Human Resources team. With a focus on recruitment administration, supporting the ongoing recruitment of single posts and volume campaigns for various Department’s within the Royal Household.

You will gain an understanding of the end-to-end recruitment process with exposure to the advertising, short listing, interviewing and on-boarding stages. You will also be provided with expose to other general HR activities such as Employee Relations, Learning and Development and Absence Management.

As a graduate with previous administration or office experience, you will have a genuine interest in pursuing a career in Human Resources. Effective organisational skills and an eye for detail are essential, as are excellent verbal and written communication skills. You should have the ability to work independently as well as part of a team and have a sound knowledge of Microsoft Office applications. Experience using database systems is desirable.

This internship offers practical HR experience in a stimulating environment with excellent training and benefits.

For further information and to apply online please visit: www.royal.gov.uk/recruitment.

Closing date for completed applications: 29 March 2012

As the Guardian’s Zoe Williams pointed out in an excellent piece last week, it’s good that the Queen at least pays her interns. We can list many, many companies and individuals that do not. But it must be remembered that the national minimum wage is still a very, very low wage – and one that campaigners for the Living Wage say it is impossible to survive on in London without welfare benefits. Why is the Queen not paying her young staff a salary they can live on?

When it was introduced, the NMW was intended to protect the very lowest-skilled workers in society, doing jobs such as cleaning. Yet it now seems that it is fast becoming the default salary for our brightest young people who have spent three years (and tens of thousands of pounds) studying for their degree. Even our monarch seems to think that graduates’ labour is worth only pennies more than this.

Last Wednesday, we sent this email to Buckingham Palace:

To: Press office, The Royal Household, Buckingham Palace
From: Graduate Fog
Wednesday, 21 March 2012, 19:45

Dear Sir / Madam,

My name is Tanya de Grunwald and I run Graduate Fog, a website for job-seeking graduates.

I am interested to see from a recent advertisement on Milkround.com that an HR internship at Buckingham Palace is paying only £12,500 per year. This seems very low, considering it specifies that the successful applicant will be a graduate with at least some experience.

Can you explain why a higher salary is not being offered?

With many thanks

Tanya de Grunwald
Founder, Graduate Fog

This morning – a week later – we received this:

From: Press Office, The Royal Household, Buckingham Palace
To: Graduate Fog
Wednesday 28 March, 11.44am

Dear Tanya,

I am writing in response to your query below regarding the HR Internship at Buckingham Palace advertised on Milkround.

The Royal Household offers a range of internships programmes across its departments. Our interns receive a placement subsistence of £12,500 per annum pro rata to cover expenses, and lunch is provided each day. The Royal Household internships programmes provide on the job training, for people seeking to gain skills, knowledge and experience to prepare for a career in a specific field of work.

Whilst we are seeking graduates with office experience for the HR Intern opportunity, we do not expect applicants to have undertaken training, possess technical knowledge, or previous experience in the field of HR. Interns will have a Personal Development Plan (PDP). They are set learning objectives and will follow a training programme for which they will receive ongoing support and reviews.

Our interns benefit from: experience in the workplace; exposure to a broad set of areas relevant to their chosen field of work; the skill base and knowledge required for their chosen field of work; involvement in a meaningful project or undertaking a job for a fixed term; a means to improve their CV and increase their future career prospects; network of contacts; support and mentoring in their chosen career path.

Please note also that our minimum starting rate for a junior HR Office Assistant (our entry level role) is £18,000.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any further queries relating to the Royal Household internship programmes.

Kind regards,

[name deleted by Graduate Fog]
Personnel Officer
The Royal Household, Buckingham Palace

What do you make of the Palace’s explanation for this low-paying role? Are you impressed that the Queen at least pays her interns? Or do you share our disappointment that the Queen is only paying her HR intern a few pence more than the bare minimum? And do you understand how the Palace’s HR Assistant role – paying £18,000 – can truly be an ‘entry level role’ as they claim, when there is effectively a job (this internship) below it?

Should Buckingham Palace dig a bit deeper to make sure their graduates can afford to live in London, without relying on benefits? Or are you impressed that the Queen pays her interns at all?

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