London. (Flickr/CC, 2.0)
Alarmed about “the number of companies recruiting young people to work for nothing,” British tax officials are forcing nine companies to pay more than $300,000 in back wages to unpaid interns. The action by Her Majesty’s Revenue, reported on the front page of The Times of London on Monday, cited the firms for “breaching minimum wage legislation.” Under British law, a position that has “set hours and set duties” is a job subject to the laws establishing minimum wages.
“Unpaid internships can provide valuable opportunities” to young people seeking to get a foot on the career ladder, Michelle Wyer, assistant director of the government’s national minimum wage team, told The Times. “However, we are clear that employing unpaid interns instead of workers to avoid the national minimum wage is wrong.”
The government has established a “pay and work rights helpline” where interns can register complaints anonymously. Each of today’s actions resulted from a complaint filed by an intern.
The firms fined for minimum wage violations included Arcadia, Britain’s largest privately held retailer. Arcadia owns Topshop and other well-known British stores.
Ben Lyons, co-founder of the group Intern Aware, told The Times that British tax officials “have only scratched the surface of Britain’s unpaid intern problem.” The government, he said, “needs to name and shame companies that refuse to pay their interns and use its powers to prosecute the worst offenders.”
Several of Britain’s leading universities are now refusing to advertise unpaid internships because of what The Times called “growing concern over the exploitation of graduates.” Those joining the boycott include Oxford, York, Leeds, Liverpool, Essex, Sussex and Nottingham.
Sometimes, Jessica Valenti writes, you've got to feed the trolls.