Dear Mr. Cameron & Mr. Clegg,
In today's tough economic climate there are 20,000 out of work graduates all desperately vying for what seems like that ever-elusive job. As a result, internships are fiercely fought over in an attempt to add some much needed experience to a C.V. This is a fact of the job market today.
However, businesses up and down the country are exploiting the desire of young people to gain this experience, and they are abusing their willingness to work for free by offering unpaid internships. Some organisations offer to cover lunch and travel expenses, while some offer no compensation at all. Apparently, the experience alone should be payment enough.
In addition to the blatant exploitation of young workers, unpaid internships actively exclude many people. There are thousands of young people who simply are not able to afford to work for no wage. This creates a gap between those who are lucky enough to be able to afford to work for free, who will gain the experience needed to pursue a career in their chosen field, while those who have not worked in unpaid internships will be left behind.
Unpaid internships are illegal under National Minimum Wage legislation. To be eligible for the National Minimum Wage, your role must be that of a "worker". According to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills "a 'worker' is someone who works under a contract of employment or any other kind of contract (express or implied) whereby they undertake to do work personally for someone else (and they are not genuinely self-employed)." The roles that interns play actively fall within this category.
It is important to note that the minimum wage is not required to be paid when an internship is being completed as part of an academic commitment, the person is of compulsory school age, or are classified as a 'voluntary worker'. Voluntary workers work for charities, voluntary organisations, associated fund raising bodies and statutory bodies.
Employers should not use interns as a source of cheap labour. There is a shortfall of jobs in this country, and as you rightly say, we need to be getting the economy moving. Keeping a whole generation waiting for paid employment only exacerbates an already volatile and unfair situation.
We find it completely unacceptable that politicians from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties continue to actively recruit unpaid interns. Those looking for a career in politics feel as though they have no choice but to work for free. This should not be the case.
For the reasons mentioned above, we are calling on your parties to pledge to pay the minimum wage (or the London living wage) to all people who intern for you. In addition, we are asking the government to pledge to enforce action which will see all interns being paid for their work.
Mr. Clegg: In April 2011 you declared that "no intern in Westminster should be unpaid." and that those interning for the Liberal Democrats should be "properly remunerated". Why then, over a year later, are there still advertisements for the Liberal Democrats for unpaid interns?
We do not see this as an unreasonable request. Many of the jobs that were once entry-level, foot in the door jobs, are now rolling 3-6 month unpaid internships. A few years ago these jobs would have been paid. This blatant exploitation must end.
This is not a partisan issue. Young people across the country are struggling to build a future and a career. Your parties are actively supporting the illegal practises of unpaid internships. It is time that you stepped up and made a promise that anyone participating in an internship should be fairly compensated for the hard work and dedication they put in by paying at least the minimum wage.
We hope that you won't let us down.
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