Tightening of the law would ensure that genuine opportunities are open to all, that employers are not exploiting young and enthusiastic labour, and they are not just limited to those who can already afford to work for free, writes Alex Cunningham MP.
The days of exploiting young people by failing to pay them for the work they do during long internships and work experience must come to an end, and my Private Members’ Bill will ensure this.
If you were to do a job search for internships, the majority of what you’d find would be unpaid although sometimes with lunch and travel expenses covered – but reimbursing an intern for their expenditure does not pay the rent and can often leave young people eager for a step onto the ladder in financial difficulty or forced to give up the internship.
This means such opportunities are exclusive to those who have parental financial support or existing wealth, and poorer young people miss out simply because they can’t afford to work for free. Social mobility, it is not.
Research by the Sutton Trust estimated that 58,000 unpaid placements take place every year, of which more than half are more than four weeks in length – 11% lasting for more than six months.
To work unpaid for six months, it is incredibly likely that you have the existing wealth to do so, perhaps by being able to live with your parents and have your living costs paid for you.
Of course, not all scenarios are black or white, but the challenge of working for a significant period unpaid means these internships are totally inaccessible for young people who do not have other people to pay for their living.
Organisations simply aren’t coming forward in large numbers offering paid internships, and instead it is mostly the already privileged who are able to take advantage of these. As these placements indirectly discriminate against the underprivileged, businesses and charities shouldn’t be able to use them at all.
There are already rules and regulations around internships, such as them not having set responsibilities or working hours – but we know that organisations simply are not sticking to these rules either because they haven’t researched the law ahead of taking on an intern, or because they know they can get away with it.
Research carried out by the Sutton Trust showed high levels of ignorance amongst employers many of whom didn’t know they were breaking the law – because that law is not clear.
We also cannot expect interns to report incidents where the law has been broken, because it would put their internship and reputation at risk along with any contacts they’ve made and damages their chance of securing a reference for future paid employment.
This means that it is up to lawmakers to clarify and enforce the rules and make it more difficult for employers to exploit unpaid workers. Several of my colleagues in Parliament such as Lord Holmes and Alec Shelbrooke MP have made moves in the past to introduce legislation that would tighten the law around unpaid internships, and I hope to be able to build on their work.
Yesterday I introduced my Private Members’ Bill into the House of Commons which would ban unpaid work placements beyond four weeks, and I hope that Parliament will agree this practice must be stopped.
There are valid instances of where unpaid work for work longer than 4 weeks are exempted, such as students who are required to take on a form of placement during their University degree, work shadowing and work experience. Yet this tightening of the law would ensure that genuine opportunities are open to all, that employers are not exploiting young and enthusiastic labour, and they are not just limited to those who can already afford to work for free.
Looking to recruit via an agency?
Read our report “The Ultimate Guide to Finding a Recruitment Partner”
Not yet benefiting from flexible workers?
Read our guide “Why Using Temporary Workers Will Grow Your Organisation”
How can you be sure you’re doing all you can to attract the right talent for your organisation?
Read our guide “The Ultimate Guide to The Recruitment Process”