Fair pay campaigner accuses government of failing to protect young workers

A blogger has criticised the government for being “shamefully slow” in taking action against unpaid internships that are exploiting young people. 

Government’s crackdown on unpaid internships will protect young trainees. Photo credit: Fotolia 

Tanya de Grunwald, founder of careers blog Graduate Fog, said employers had a responsibility to nurture and train young staff and not take advantage of their desperation for experience.

This comes after a Department for Work and Pensions minister confirmed the government would be reviewing options for work placements as part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge to “make Britain work for all, not just the rich.”

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Grunwald told TJ: “We campaigners have been banging on about unpaid internships being a big problem for over six years and the government has been well aware of that, we’ve even named and shamed some of their own MPs.

“It’s great that there may be some action at last, but I’m not about to give the government a round of applause. While they’ve dithered and delayed over last six years, millions of young people have been forced to abandon their career dreams simply because they could not afford to work unpaid. That is a scandal, not something to celebrate. The response has been and continues to be shamefully slow.

“Just because you’re learning, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paid for your work. Everyone gets better at their job the longer they do it for. Young people are no different. If someone is doing the role of a ‘worker’ with set hours and responsibilities that would otherwise be done by a paid member of staff then they must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage (or National Living Wage if they’re 25 or over). Employers must pay this and interns can’t waive their right to wages even if they say they are willing to work for free.”

The proposed national minimum wage (workplace internships) bill would require companies to pay adult interns at least the minimum wage, but would exclude school-age children, apprentices and full-time university and college students who are completing work experience as part of their studies.

The review comes amid concerns that young people with poorer socioeconomic backgrounds cannot afford their living costs without being paid a wage, and are therefore put off applying for unpaid internships.

Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, told ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme that internships gave richer candidates an unfair boost in the race to get top jobs.

He said: “It is important that young people have an opportunity to get work experience. One of the big barriers to getting a job is not having had employment experience, and so there is a role for work experience. But I think particularly in the media, in fashion, in these very sought-after occupations, there is a concern with unpaid internships, those aren’t actually accessible to everybody and I think it is right that we look at it.”

MPs will debate plans to pay interns at least the minimum wage on Friday 4 November.


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