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Unpaid interns

Posted on August 17, 2012

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Unpaid Interns:

Taking on unpaid interns is common in some sectors, but are they being given valuable work experience, or are they just free labour?


Interns don’t need to be paid the NMW unless they fall within the definition of “worker”. In 2009 the Reading employment tribunal ruled that an intern paid on an expenses-only basis was in fact a “worker” and entitled to the NMW plus holiday pay (Vetta v London Dreams Motions Pictures Ltd). In that case Ms Vetta was taken on as an unpaid art department assistant at a film company. It seems likely that if the intern will be doing work normally undertaken by a paid member of staff, s/he could fall within the definition of ‘worker’.


Meanwhile in R (on behalf of Reilly & Wilson) v Department of Work and Pensions last month concerned the question of whether it was slave labour to force an individual in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance to participate in a ‘work for your benefit’ scheme in breach of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Ms Reilly was a geology graduate made to work in Poundland for two weeks to get Job Seekers Allowance. The Court held that this did not amount to ‘slavery’ or ‘forced labour’.


Responsible companies taking on interns would be wise to document their intern policy and be clear that their interns, will not effectively be doing the work of a normal employee.


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