26/10/2012 13:11 BST

Tony Blair's Office Rejects Graduate For Unpaid Intern Job As He Can't Afford To Work For Free

A graduate has reportedly been rejected after applying for an unpaid internship at Tony Blair's private office because he cannot afford to work for free.

The former prime minister offers "expenses only" during the three-month internship, despite being the politician responsible for introducing the National Minimum Wage (NMW) in 1998.

The graduate, who wishes to remain anonymous, was offered the internship but when he explained he could only afford to work four out of the five day week, was told via an email: "Sorry…the role has now been filled by someone who was available for the full 5 days."

The London university graduate contacted Graduate Fog, a careers advice website which takes a strong stance against unpaid internships.

"I was elated when I was offered the internship with Tony Blair’s private office – he was my idol growing up and it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime to work for a former prime minister," he told the site. "I was distraught when the offer was later retracted, after I realised that I would have to give up my part-time job in order to work full-time without a salary."

The young man explains his rent and travel costs would amount to more than £550 a month and the lunch and travel expenses offered by Blair's office would in "no way" cover it.

"It’s very disappointing that a prime minister who dedicated himself to equal opportunity for all has effectively made this internship available only to those who don’t need to be paid to work," he added.

An advert for an intern at Blair's private office, seen by Graduate Fog, consists of providing support to the office, researching Blair's activities, managing meeting rooms, answering phones and emails and "undertaking any task deemed appropriate".

The Office of Tony Blair told HuffPost UK in an email: "We do run an internship programme and value our interns very highly.

"Each internship lasts for around 3 months and is designed to give young people valuable experience in a high profile and fast moving work environment.

"We support all our interns by paying travel and lunch expenses."

Under Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) guidelines, advertising for an unpaid intern is not illegal. Whether or not someone is entitled to be paid the NMW depends on whether or not they are a "worker".

The BIS defines a worker as:

"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).

"A contract does not have to be written and can be oral or implied. Key elements in establishing whether someone has a worker's contract include:

- Whether there is an obligation on the individual to perform the work and an obligation on the employer to provide the work, and

- Whether the individual is rewarded for the work by money or benefits.

So you can advertise unpaid internships but if the actual working arrangements are such that the person is a 'worker' than you will have to pay them at least the national minimum wage."

Alex Try, co-founder of Interns Anonymous, told HuffPost UK: "Over the past three and a half years we have seen an ever increasing number of graduates, already saddled with debt, doing a string of unpaid jobs just to get on the career ladder. It is now the norm.

"If you can’t afford to work for free, or don’t live in London then you are effectively cut off from a whole range of potential careers.

"If you work set hours, doing set tasks and are relied upon by your colleagues then you are legally defined as a ‘worker’ and should be paid NMW. This is what the Government’s own lawyers are saying."

A week ago it was revealed celebrity magazine Now had to pay out £750 to an intern who proved she had performed "paid tasks" while at the publication.

In July 2011, Blair came under fire after his charitable foundation the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative advertised for a three-month intern.

Applicants had to have "excellent academic credentials with a proven numerical ability, ideally with prior experience in an office environment" but the intern would not be paid.

Despite the coalition attempting to reverse the unpaid intern culture, which is growing at an alarming rate, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg doesn't even pay his interns.

Hazel Blears MP has previously written for The Huffington Post UK arguing "it is time paid interns became the norm".

"The Government must commit to enforcing the National Minimum Wage with regards to internships," she wrote. "With more and more employers expecting applicants for jobs to have experience before they will even be considered, how are people expected to work in expensive cities like London without getting paid?"

But a new scheme launched on Tuesday hopes to eradicate the culture of unpaid internships and open doors for everyone - not just the privileged elite.

The initiative, dreamt up by industry giants O2 and Bauer Media, which owns magazines such as Kerrang! Grazia and Heat, and who have invested £5m in the GoThinkBig project, looks set to offer 30,000 work skills opportunities to young people over the next three years.


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