17 October 2014
Alan Milburn, chair of the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is to make the recommendation that interns should be paid the minimum wage.
The recommendation comes on the back of evidence that internships are becoming the major route into work, with 37% of graduates being recruited by companies in the Times Top 100 Graduate Recruiters having previously done internships for them.
There are an estimated 100,000 internships – the majority of which are in London, and many of them unpaid. At present only a quarter of employers pay interns above the minimum wage. For many, working for little or for free is financially unfeasible, making internships one of the biggest barriers to social mobility at present.
The ‘intern problem’ is particularly pervasive in certain professions, such as fashion and the media; 83% of new journalists have done an internship, lasting on average seven weeks, with 92% of the positions unpaid.
There is a lack of clarity as to whether interns are workers or volunteers under the terms of the National Minimum Wage Act, allowing for exploitation. Milburn is to recommend that the law is clarified in order that interns are classified as employed rather than volunteering, since they have fixed hours and will be disciplined for failure to perform allocated tasks, and are working in return for prospective employment or references.