PM challenged by Hazel on unpaid internships

Posted: 20 June 2013

HAZEL has challenged the Prime Minister to ensure that students from Salford who graduate from university this summer are not exploited as they take their first steps on the career ladder.

She called on David Cameron to ensure that employers were not allowed to breach the National Minimum Wage by offering unpaid internships to young people.

Hazel threw down the gauntlet to Mr Cameron in the House of Commons as she stepped up her efforts to ensure interns are paid.

The previous day she led a parliamentary adjournment debate on the issue before launching Let’s Get Our House In Order, a campaign to persuade all MPs to pay their interns after several recently advertised unpaid roles.

Hazel, who says unpaid internships discriminate against talented young people who cannot afford to work for free in London, told Mr Cameron:

“In a few weeks’ time, thousands of young people across the country, including many from my constituency in Salford and Eccles, will be graduating from university and looking forward to getting their first step on the career ladder.

“Unfortunately for many of them, the only option will be a long-term unpaid internship that requires them to work for free.

“Will the Prime Minister therefore make sure that the National Minimum Wage Regulations 2011 are rigorously enforced by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to put an end to this exploitation of our young people?”

The Prime Minister replied that Ms Blears was “doing some important work in this area”, stressing that while short-term work experience could be valuable, unpaid interns should not be used instead of employees to avoid paying the National Minimum Wage.

Hazel’s Westminster Hall adjournment debate was attended by 20 MPs from across the political spectrum and she received widespread support in her opposition to unpaid internships.

She said that while more firms and MPs were now paying their interns, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was prioritising enforcement action, much more needed to be done.

Anyone who works set hours and has set responsibilities is entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage.

Afterwards, Hazel launched Let’s Get Our House In Order at an event organised alongside the Intern Aware campaign group.

She signed a pledge promising to pay her interns and was joined by MPs from all the main parties including former cabinet minister David Blunkett, Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw, Cambridge MP Julian Huppert and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.

Hazel said: “A short work experience placement can be a valuable introduction to the world of work but when you have unpaid internships lasting for several months and even longer being advertised that is just exploitation.

“Young people from poorer backgrounds often feel there is no point in them applying for these internships because they know they will not be able to afford to work for free in London.

“We need to send out a clear message that unpaid internships have no place in Britain in the 21st century.

“They perpetuate the existence of a society in which it is where people come from, not where they want to go, that dictates their future.

“That is a scandal in a country that supposedly prides itself on fairness and equality.”

Ben Lyons from Intern Aware, the campaign for fair internships, said: “Unpaid internships exclude the vast majority of young people who can’t afford to work for free.

“It is wrong that too many employers recruit based on the wealth of an intern’s parents rather than their aptitude and willingness to work hard.

“Where interns are doing real work, they also have a legal right to pay and we have helped interns secured thousands of pounds of unpaid wages.

“The Government must respond to the calls of MPs – and the tens of thousands of young people who can’t afford to intern without pay – and crack down on unfair and illegal unpaid internships.”

Hazel was instrumental in setting up the Speakers’ Parliamentary Placement Scheme in 2011.

The scheme offers nine-month paid internships in the London offices of participating MPs from all the main parties, plus help with living costs.

It is aimed at people who are passionate about politics but cannot afford to work for free.

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