The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has updated its guidance on internship programmes and the national minimum wage.
The publication of this guidance coincides with the news that Unite the Union has focussed its attention on the voluntary sector and in particular is alleging that more than a third of the UK top 50 charity employers are signing unpaid interns.
Internships have been widely criticised for elitism in offering work based training on the basis of a ‘who you know rather than what you know’ recruitment culture and lack of a basic wage. However if structured properly, an internship is a cost effective means of recruiting talent for an employer and for the individual it is a valuable opportunity to obtain on the job professional experience, training and mentoring as a route into a chosen profession.
Unite claims that uncertainty in the definition of a volunteer and the good- will afforded to charities is being exploited as a means of avoiding paying interns the national minimum wage.
While the BIS guidance on interns confirms that volunteers are exempt from the national minimum wage, it’s definition of a volunteer as “those who are under no obligation to perform work or carry our instructions; they have no contract or formal arrangement and can come and go as they please; they have no expectation of and do not receive any reward for the work that they do”, is rather worrying.
This definition will undoubtedly raise concerns for those charities, reliant on volunteers to undertake a wide range of tasks including direct charitable activities such a befriending and counselling. Such charities will expect their volunteers to commit to providing a minimum number of hours for a minimum period of time and will expect them to follow instructions if only to ensure that the services to the beneficiary can be maintained.
1. If you are thinking of offering an internship:
a) Assess what benefit an intern would get from the opportunity and what training and mentoring opportunities you have the capacity to offer.
b) Recruit in an open and fair manner;
c) Ensure you have the financial capacity to offer a salary, even at the national minimum wage;
d) Put in place an appropriate and structured supervision and mentoring programme.
2. If your organisation is reliant on volunteers ensure that:
a) you avoid terms such as ‘requirement’ in your volunteer agreement and instead stipulate what you would like the volunteer to commit to.
b) any training provided is specific to the volunteering opportunity and is time limited.
c) Expenses offered should be limited to travel and subsistence and paid on the production of receipts.