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Friday, 30 July 2010

£2.50 an hour – better than nothing, or a continuing rip-off?

The debate continues. Should unpaid internships ever be allowed? At what point does ‘valuable work experience’ become exploitation?

We included a piece in our latest student newsletter about the CIPD proposals to introduce a training wage for interns to try and clarify once and for all what employers obligations are to interns.

The proposed Training Wage of £2.50 an hour - which is the current minimum rate of pay for apprentices - would be introduced to cover all internships and apprentices. Any position that is advertised as an internship would trigger a legal obligation for an employer to pay at least the Training Wage, helping to reduce complexity surrounding the issue of payment for young people and also support better enforcement arrangements.

We asked for feedback from students and graduates and we were not surprised that the response was generally in favour, on the basis that currently so many internships are completely unpaid. Stories from Masters students working unpaid for 9 months made us want to weep.
Our view remains that interns should be paid at least the national minimum wage and will then have the motivation to work hard, contribute and go on to be great ambassadors for the employer. Currently employers are running the risk of bad PR, as can be seen on Graduate Fog, where Tanya de Grunwald is doing such a great job in naming and shaming. Follow her progress on twitter @graduatefog.

So is there ever a case for students to work unpaid? After all, it does look good on their CV... Well maybe there is. Perhaps in addition to legislating on a minimum wage for interns a timeframe could also be incorporated. From the comments and feedback we have had from our students, many acknowledge that unpaid work experience is just an accepted part of the job hunting process. But how long can that be sustained by many students who have already amassed huge debts on their way to graduating?

This would be our suggestion:
Work experience: 2 weeks; can be unpaid, expenses must be covered
Internship: 2 weeks+; should be paid at least national minimum wage

Comments anyone?

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