The initiative, which kicked off at a seminar at TUC headquarters in central London today, is intended to address concerns that graduates undertaking work experience are being exploited as a useful source of free labour because of their desperation to find work in difficult economic times.
The aim is also to raise awareness of the issue among those employers that are unaware that not paying interns is a breach of employment legilsation and of national minimum wage rules.
The TUC’s deputy general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Whether they are unscrupulous or genuinely unaware of the rules, too many employers are ripping off young people by employing them in unpaid internships that are not only unfair but, in most cases, probably illegal.”
While internships can offer help to kick-start careers, more and more young people were being forced to turn to them in place of traditional entry-level jobs, which meant that they were at growing risk of real exploitation.
Only being fair
“It is vital that we crack down on those internships that offer little but hard graft for no reward. Employers need to know that there’s no such thing as free labour,” O’Grady added.
The union umbrella group is also concerned that jobs in popular careers such as journalism, advertising, film, television and public relations are becoming the exclusive domain of people from affluent backgrounds, whose parents can afford to support them, often for months on end, while they work for free.
The TUC also launched a ‘Rights for Interns’ smartphone application, which can be downloaded onto Apple
‘s Android phones on a free-of-charge basis. It includes tools to help graduates evaluate their own internships or ones they are thinking about undertaking as well as providing general guidance on their work rights and minimum wage rates.
Speakers at today’s event included Hazel Blears MP, who talked about the parliamentary intern scheme; NUS vice president of society and citizenship, Dannie Grufferty; National Union of Journalists
‘ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet; representatives from support group, Intern Aware
, and interns who have experienced exploitation.
Grufferty said that a fair day’s work always deserved a fair day’s pay.
“If we are serious about fair access to all professions, the current situation whereby young people are expected to undertake many months, and sometimes years, of unpaid work in order to be seen to have sufficient experience simply cannot go on,” she added. “This presents a fundamental barrier to many of the most competitive professions for the millions of young people who cannot afford to work for free.”