The TUC claims that one in three interns are working unpaid, despite qualifying for the national minimum wage. The problem appears most pronounced in popular careers like journalism, advertising, film, television and PR. These professions are fast becoming the exclusive preserve of people born to affluent parents willing to subsidise their offspring through the early part of their careers in order to give them a "leg up".
Sadly, of course, interns in these industries are the least likely to complain about minimum wage violations since they invariably have the means to work without pay.
Still, the TUC is determined to support young people, particularly those who receive no support from the bank of mum and dad. They've launched a new website - www.rightsforinterns.org.uk - which sets out the rights interns should expect at work.
Launching the site, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Whether they are unscrupulous or genuinely unaware of the rules, too many employers are ripping off talented young people by employing them in unpaid internships that are not only unfair but, in most cases, probably illegal.
'Internships can be a positive experience and offer a kick-start to a career that many young people value. But as more and more graduates are being forced to turn to internships in place of traditional entry-level jobs, we're concerned that a growing number of interns are at risk of real exploitation.
'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.'
National Minimum Wage
The Government announced an increase in the national minimum wage this week: currently anyone deemed a worker aged over 22 should be paid £5.80 per hour; from October onwards, this will increase to £5.93 per hour and be available for anyone over 21. The rate for workers aged 18 to 20 will also increase in October from £4.83 to £4.92 an hour. As will the rate for workers aged 16 to 17, which will increase form £3.57 to £3.64 an hour. Apprentices aged under 19 and those in the first year of their apprenticeship will also be eligible for a minimum wage of £2.50 an hour starting in October.
Do I qualify for the minimum wage?
Any intern undertaking work-related tasks, who has set hours and a duty to turn up for work most likely qualifies as a 'worker' under UK employment law, and should be paid the minimum wage.
In the view of the TUC, this encompasses all internships that do not simply involve observation and work-shadowing.
When in doubt, call the government Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368 for free and confidential advice.