Protection for interns: TUC and NUS step up calls for fair treatment

Protection for interns: TUC and NUS step up calls for fair treatment

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Author: Bhavika Dusara

A year long campaign to protect interns from exploitation and call for their fair treatment in the workplace has been launched.

The Trade Union Congress ("TUC") and National Union of Students ("NUS") are behind this latest initiative to highlight the issue of unpaid interns in the workforce.

A free phone App "Rights for Interns" that can be downloaded to Apple and Android smart phones has also been launched.

The crackdown continues

Trade unions are concerned that, in the current economic climate, employers are taking advantage of graduates' desperation to find work and using interns as a useful source of free labour, rather than pay them for traditional "entry level" jobs.

There has been widespread confusion about the legal rights of interns as the position is not always clear. Many employers assume that it is legitimate to pay those doing work experience only expenses. However, this is not always the position, which will depend on the facts of each case. Many interns, particularly those on longer-term assignments, are likely to be workers who are protected under legislation and are entitled to receive both the national minimum wage and paid holidays.

Campaigners have really seized on this issue in the last year and stepped up their work to keep it in the public eye. It seems unlikely that they will rest until the government takes further measures against employers who do not observe their legal obligations to their interns.

The focus on unpaid interns has now fallen on careers such as, politics, journalism, advertising, film, television and public relations whereas it had previously been focused on the fashion industry. The current TUC/NUS campaign argues that this will ensure fair access to all professions.

The free phone App will make it very easy for interns or those considering internships to have access to general guidance on their working rights such as, working time, paid holiday and national minimum wage at their fingertips.

What does this mean for employers?

Employers must be able to distinguish whether its interns are workers or not as the right to be paid and other employment rights only apply to interns who qualify as workers. Those interns who have set hours and are required to attend the business and do anything more than work shadowing and observation are likely to be workers.

If the government were to take further steps to clamp down on the use of internships this would put at risk those genuine internships which do provide graduates with essential insight into their chosen industry and a great experience.

Employers who rely on interns and who wish to continue to use them must ensure that they are used appropriately and if they are unpaid that they meet the criteria for a non-paid internship.

For more information to help you indentify whether the intern is a worker please see our previous article: Intern alert: Taxman looking to raid fashion designers