WITH Summer fast approaching, the number of individuals seeking valuable work experience placements during the summer holidays tends to increase, but Tayside employers who use unpaid interns are being warned that their philanthropic efforts to create development opportunities could result in them breaking the law and flouting national minimum wage legislation.
The warning comes from local solicitors firm, Miller Hendry, following a recent report that around 100 employers have been referred to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by the employment minister, Jo Swinson, following a campaign by Intern Aware, to raise awareness of the practice.
The employers will be investigated by HMRC under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, which requires workers to be paid the national minimum wage, currently £6.19 per hour for over 21’s.
Branding unpaid internships for young people as “exploitative and often illegal”, Intern Aware are pushing for payment for all work experience placements.
The employment minister is quoted by the BBC, as saying: “There is a significant problem in society where people are being exploited for no money when they should be being paid. We have got to change attitudes and make sure companies realise it is not appropriate. Where there is a job that needs doing, then it needs to be treated as a job and not be done be someone who is not being paid. This attacks the national minimum wage.”
Alan Matthew, employment law expert with Miller Hendry solicitors and estate agents, commented:
“We have seen an increase in the number of employers who are worried about possible HMRC investigation if they offer unpaid work experience placements. The problem arises because of a grey area around the difference between a genuine short term work experience placement, designed to give a young person a brief flavour of a particular job, and a longer term placement where there’s a real role which attracts a right to payment, but the intern isn’t getting paid.
”The problem is compounded by a lack of clear guidance from HMRC, but employers need to get their house in order and make sure they’re not flouting minimum wage legislation.”