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Employment Law: MPs regularly break minimum wage laws with unpaid internships

Despite unpaid internships being a topic of contention for the past few years, with several cases of interns suing for lack of payment in various industries, it seems that MPs are guilty of regularly taking on interns for long periods without paying them and therefore breaking minimum wage laws.

The House of Commons website Work for MP shows that there have been 260 unpaid internships offered since the election, some lasting as long as 10 months without even providing expenses.

National minimum wage must be paid to anyone who is classed as a 'worker'. According to legal advice provided internally to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills ministers, "most interns are likely to be workers, and therefore entitled to the NMW."

Amongst the internships advertised were ones from Conservative MPs: culture minister Jeremy Hunt, attorney general Dominic Grieve and exchequer secretary to the Treasury David Gauke.

Labour MPs advertised 55 positions including ones for shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna and shadow Treasury chief secretary Rachel Reeves.

Liberal Democrat MPs advertised 67 placements, despite Nick Clegg stating in April this year: "For too long, internships have been the almost exclusive preserve of the sharp-elbowed and the well-connected. Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities."

Critics fear that these unpaid internships will mean that only those whose families are rich enough to support them for many months without an income will be able to apply. This in turn would result only the richest gaining connections and opportunities and, ultimately, jobs in politics.

Louise Haigh of the parliamentary staff branch of union Unite said: "Since the election, with a lack of clear guidance and regulation, there's definitely been an upturn. I've been in parliament for 3½ years now. I can see a definite shift to internships, and that being the only defined route into being a parliamentary researcher and a political career."

Many positions offered on the Work for MP site are advertised as voluntary positions, but this does not change the legal position. HM Revenue and Customs states: "Sometimes individuals are told they are interns or volunteers, but this does not prevent them being workers."

And according to Government lawyers, only short one or two-week placements, in which the benefit is entirely to the intern, can be exempt from NMW laws.

A spokesman said: "The law is clear."

Do you think internships should all be paid? Do you think it's fair that those who can afford to be unpaid should receive all the best opportunities? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

Unpaid internships, are they legal? (FindLaw)

Find local employment solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)