Slave labour

March 15, 2012

Sir Tim Wilson's Review of Business-University Collaboration raises the prospect of a generation of students suffering the exploitation of unpaid internships under the guise that they need more work experience. The review's proposal of 10- to 12-week internships as part of undergraduate courses opens the door to unscrupulous employers using a merry-go-round of free students on short placements to undercut minimum wage laws. Will universities have the resources to monitor such placements?

Wilson's "pragmatic" attitude towards the prevalence of the hidden army of unpaid internships ("Spend Offa cash on interns, Wilson says", 1 March) - rife in politics, media, the creative industry and other sectors - is ominous. The Wilson review's equivocation on such issues is clear when it admits that unpaid internships for graduates are controversial, but ignores the main reason why.

Let's be clear. Exploiting ex-students by using them as workers but calling them unpaid interns is likely to contravene minimum wage legislation and is therefore unlawful. Too many commentators have muddied the waters by suggesting that it is a matter of choice whether employers offer paid or unpaid internships. The principle that anyone working for an employer should be paid for it must be defended.

Peter Scott, Department of human resource and marketing management, University of Portsmouth

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