MPs may be in breach of National Minimum Wage (NMW) Regulations by taking on unpaid interns.
The website W4MP, (Work for a MP) regularly advertises internship posts offering those who wish to get into the political sphere a chance at gaining some experience. There are worries that in offering such unpaid internships a new political class is being created. That is one where its members herald from rich families able to support such prolonged periods of unpaid unemployment.
In reality most people who take a job as an intern will fall into the bracket of “worker” and as such are entitled to the national minimum wage. There are few circumstances which will warrant no pay, namely, legitimate work experience and educational benefit. Similarly, only a few sectors are able to offer such schemes for no pay and those are charities and public bodies. The law in this area is clear and MPs are not allowed to take on interns without payment. It is believed that MPs regularly break the law in this are, with some unpaid internships lasting up to 10 months.
Some blame has been placed on budgetary restrictions but budgets have actually remained constant over the last few years despite changes in funding for the employment of staff. Louise Haigh, of the parliamentary branch of the unite union, said that the W4MP ads were only part of the picture commenting that she thought “there are 450 interns; 7% are paid a wage, and 20% are paid expenses." MPs have stressed the amount of people wishing to enter the profession and it has been recognised that interning is now one of the most legitimate routes into it. Some say that they have only been using the website to advertise to a wider pool of potential applicants and that they try to keep the length of schemes down to a three month maximum.
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg had said that he wanted to ban unpaid internships in Westminster. Last year the campaign group Intern Aware argued that the temporary positions often offered using the website had become full-blown jobs and the interns should be paid at least the minimum wage. The truth is that if interns are not merely shadowing MPs and are actually involved in skilled labour then they are likely to be entitled to the minimum wage.
Earlier this year a scheme was launched which would offer paid internships to those from less advantaged families to gain parliamentary experience and have a chance to gain an edge in the job market. This is an important way of helping to make the playing field that bit more level. Gus Baker, from Intern Aware, said "Unpaid Parliamentary internships mean that the tiny minority who can afford to work for free in their 20s will be the MPs of tomorrow. This is something which is both potentially illegal and socially unacceptable as well as not being the best lead for other employers to follow.