Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has recently moved ahead with a planned crackdown on unpaid internships slamming the practice as “unfair”.

 The new scheme involves asking companies to pay all their interns in accordance with National Minimum Wage or at least reasonable travel expenses in order to prevent the exclusion of poorer students who cannot afford to work for free. It will also tackle the exploitation of jobseekers, preventing the practice of companies taking on successive unpaid interns without the aim of hiring.

Clegg holds the view that free labour in the workplace prevents social mobility due to the “sharp-elbowed and well connected” taking advantage of the increased career opportunities presented to them.  The scheme aims to counter the monopoly, which networked young jobseekers, likely to have attended fee paying schools, have, on top professional careers. It is argued these individuals are often more likely to afford to undertake informal unpaid internships long-term.

There has been criticism that this stance is inconsistent or even hypocritical due to Clegg’s disclosure that he had secured his own first internships in a Finnish bank and starter political role in Whitehall via family connections. Further criticism comes from the admission that at least eight coalition MPs had advertised for unpaid interns around the time of the proposal and the Government scrapping of a beneficial paid internship scheme.

However, the scheme has advanced with HM Revenue and Customs placing over 100 UK fashion companies on notice with threat of prosecution for failing to pay interns over 21 at least national minimum wages. PR companies have been urged to sign up to a “business compact”, a list recognising them as intern-paying.

Further action will take place later this year.

It is hoped that this development of required payment for interns or reimbursement of expenses will help provide a fairer playing field for interns hoping to gain valuable experience amongst an increasingly difficult job market in 2012.


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