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Employment law: Third of internships on government website are "unpaid"

Despite Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's recent call for graduate internships to be paid, the government's own website the Graduate Talent Pool currently advertises hundreds of unpaid schemes.

Mr Clegg, amongst many others, believes that by asking graduates to work full-time for no pay employers are breaking national minimum-wage laws.

He also expressed concern that unpaid internships would have an impact on social mobility, since only those who could afford to would be able to spend several months working with no money coming in.

Mr Clegg said: "We want to improve understanding of the application of national minimum-wage legislation to internships and ensure that employers comply with it.

"Where an individual is entitled to the minimum wage they should receive it and we take failure to do so very seriously."

But a Freedom of Information inquest found that up to 6 May the government website, set up by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, advertised more than 7,600 vacancies, of which around 2,200 (almost 30%) were paid placements.

Its home page currently states that it has more than 2,239 internships available of which only 1,235 are paid.

Although, the Graduate Talent Pool website does point out to employers that interns who effectively perform a "worker" role "in most cases will be entitled to the national minimum wage".

Currently there are no laws in place governing the rights of an "intern". A person will only be entitled to national minimum wage if they qualify as a "worker".

A "worker" is a person who has a contract of employment that states that they will do work for someone else. The contract can be written, oral or implied. So if there is an obligation on the intern's part to do work for the employer, then they can be classed as a "worker" and should receive minimum wage.

Related links:
Read more on this story (BBC)
Read about the national minimum wage (FindLaw)
Find local employment solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)