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UK Economy
Employers oppose curbs on unpaid interns
From the Financial Times of Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:38:18 GMT
Employee with heap of documents and papers©iStock

Curbs on unpaid internships will reduce the opportunities available to young people, the CBI, the UK’s biggest business lobby group, has said after Labour proposed a ban on placements of more than a month.

The opposition party wants to cut the length of internships in an attempt to stop young people with rich parents “locking up” the UK’s professional jobs. It argues that unpaid internships hurt social mobility by giving an advantage to those who can afford to work for free.

The proposal, to be unveiled on Tuesday, divided the business community. While the CBI criticised the idea, the Institute of Directors, which represents almost 40,000 company directors, said there was “a strong case to be made” that interns who stayed on for more than a month should be paid the minimum wage.

Christian May, the IoD’s director of communications, said there was “a possibility that some small employers would be deterred from taking on an intern for more than a month if these rules came into place, but a lot can be achieved in four weeks and if both parties wish to continue for longer than that, then fair remuneration ought to be discussed.”

The government estimates there are 70,000 interns at any one time and about a fifth are unpaid, according to a survey of employers by the CIPD. Although the data are patchy, they suggest that paid internships are most common in the creative, cultural and media sectors. The National Council for the Training of Journalists said 82 per cent of new journalists had done an internship, 92 per cent of which were unpaid.

Interns exist in a legal grey area. The government said on Monday interns should be entitled to the national minimum wage if they are defined legally as a “worker” — but acknowledged that the lack of any legal definition of “intern” meant that determining their entitlement to pay was complicated.

Under current rules, an employer can take on an intern on an unpaid basis only where the individual is not a “worker” or other exemptions apply, such as students in higher education on work placements.

The government also said changing the legal status of internships could lead to a reduction in the number of such posts available, with employers simply withdrawing internships rather than replacing them with paid positions.

Katerina Rüdiger, head of skills and policy campaigns at the CIPD, said there were more important issues than pay.

“Whilst pay is an important factor, simply providing a wage is no guarantee of the quality of an internship. Also critical is ensuring that internships provide skills and a valuable introduction to work. Interns need and deserve a decent induction, clear tasks and objectives, and a proper appraisal at the end of their time, with feedback on strengths and weaknesses. If this isn’t happening, neither the intern nor the employer will be getting the best from the time invested.”

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