Coalition plan to end unpaid internships receives mixed response

Coalition plans to stamp out the practice of unpaid internships have met with a mixed response from the PR industry.

Working for free: The coalition wants to end unpaid internships
Working for free: The coalition wants to end unpaid internships

The Government's social mobility strategy was launched by Nick Clegg on Tuesday, with the Deputy PM stating that he wanted to reverse the growing culture of unpaid internships.

A new national internship scheme will ask firms to pay young people doing work experience and warn they could otherwise risk a legal challenge under national minimum wage legislation.

But Chime Communications chief executive Lord Bell questioned Clegg's ability to enforce such a rule: 'If I want to give someone an unpaid internship, he's not going to be able to stop me. All it will do is mean fewer people will be able to get internships.'

He added: 'We don't do unpaid internships, we pay travelling costs or living costs - I think it's wrong to treat people like slaves. But there's a difference between that and having some idiot tell us it's now government policy.'

However, the PRCA's Francis Ingham said that he had written to Clegg offering the PR industry's active support, while CIPR CEO Jane Wilson said she also looked forward to working with the Government on the proposals.

Unpaid internships have been a hot topic in the PR industry since a BBC documentary in February highlighted the use of unpaid interns by Modus Publicity. Since then, the PRCA has rallied a group of industry professionals to thrash out guidelines aimed at broadening access to the PR industry.

One of the group, Red Consultancy MD Mike Morgan, said that the Government should start with a minimum standard of payment for interns.

'They'll find there are plenty of willing partners out there, whether it's big business or large media organisations, but they need to get to a place where there are workable systems.

'If they put too much cost on it, people won't want to do it at all. Finding a way to make this work is going to be difficult.'

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