Lottie Unwin (of Instant Impact – a graduate recruitment firm that matches students and graduates with SMEs and start-ups, where all roles are paid ) writing in the Guardian on 6 December states:
A new bill introduced by Hazel Blears to ban employers from advertising long-term unpaid internships will be debated in the House of Commons in February. It is a milestone in the fight against exploitation and will help to reduce the number and visibility of unpaid work placements. Symbolically, it reinforces the idea that all proper work should be paid at least the national minimum wage.
You can also read the background to Hazel Blears motion here
The Bill if passed may not solve the issue completely and might, as Lottie points out in her article, drive the practice even more underground making it even more divisive. However, it is at least an acknowledgement by government that organisations are essentially flouting the National Minimum Wage Act which requires that every worker (defined as anyone with either a written, oral or even implied contract) is paid at least £4.98 an hour (18-20 year olds) or £6.19 an hour (21years plus).
At The Careers Group (and undoubtedly at most other universities) we have a policy that we will not advertise unpaid work unless it is for a registered charity (who are exempt from the Minimum Wage Act). This does create a dilemma for us as we know that there is unpaid work experience out there for our students and they are understandably desperate for that experience to enhance their CV but by promoting such opportunities we would be breaking the law. Unpaid opportunities have expanded in to all sectors over the last few years and so the disadvantage to applicants with less access to other funds to support them whilst they work for nothing has grown too! Whilst we will never be in a position to advise students not to apply for unpaid work we can encourage them to think carefully about offering their services for free when they apply speculatively to employers and also to point out the legal situation if and when they are offered unpaid work.
Perhaps by the government raising the profile on this issue again this will prompt more direct challenges by applicants and Student Unions to employers and organisations who still offer unpaid work!