Advertising unpaid internships could become illegal from next year, under proposals being introduced into parliament today. Although unpaid internships themselves are already illegal, advertising them has been allowed until now, sending confusing signals to both employers and jobseekers.

A so-called ’10-minute rule bill’ – which would create a minor change to current law – is being proposed by Labour MP Hazel Blears, who says she is backed by several other Labour and Lib Dem politicians, including David Miliband. Blears claim “It is a simple thing to do” – but was an important step in the fight against unpaid interships:

“This idea, particularly at a time of high unemployment, that you are exploiting and taking advantage of young people is just not acceptable.

“Lots of good employers, big companies, are paying their interns, so I think we are making progress. If you look at parliament, a year ago there were lots of unpaid internships and now there’s virtually none. This is a process of behaviour change, where you get to the point where respected employers no longer think it’s the right thing to do — and that’s through a combination of law, cultural change, naming and shaming.”

Asked whether the change in law could damage the job recruitment industry, Blears said it was high time that the job recruitment industry became more responsible about which adverts they chose to publicise:

“They shouldn’t be advertising positions that are essentially unlawful, should they? They are almost colluding in what is a really unfair situation. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to do that.”

As regular readers will know, Graduate Fog has felt strongly for some time that a blanket ban on advertising unpaid internships would be hugely helpful for our campaign to make all internships pay at least the minimum wage. Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog, said today:

“This small piece of legislation is big news for interns. For too long, seeing adverts for unpaid internships posted all over the internet has given both employers and young people the impression that the practice is legal, which it isn’t.

“Worse still, these ads have constantly undermined the hard work that we campaigners are doing to raise awareness about the facts on unpaid internships. People say to me ‘But unpaid internships can’t be illegal – they’re advertised everywhere.’

“It is also significant that at recruitment websites are finally being dragged into this discussion and made to answer for their actions. Until now, they have been able to insist they have no responsibility towards the jobseekers they target – legal or moral. Now, that is changing. The message is clear: if you advertise an illegal unpaid internships, you are effectively facilitating the exploitation of a young worker – and that’s not okay.”

We hope universities are listening too and will in future think twice about promoting illegal, exploitative positions to their students and graduates. For a long time, people who should know better have been colluding with employers who rip off their desperate young staff. Enough is enough.

Will removing them from job websites help clarify the message that these positions are unlawful? Or do you worry that banning them will push the best opportunities ‘underground’, limiting access to only those people well-connected enough to hear about them through their friends and family?

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