PR industry's exploitation of interns probed by HMRC

PR professionals are among the worst offenders for exploiting interns, according to research by campaign group Intern Aware.

Flat out: Interns can work very hard for little or no cash reward (Credit: Thinkstock)
Flat out: Interns can work very hard for little or no cash reward (Credit: Thinkstock)

Ten per cent of the 100 firms reported to HM Revenue and Customs for investigation are either PR agencies or companies advertising PR roles.

HMRC is looking into whether employment law has been broken through the use of unpaid interns.

Intern Aware, which fights for fair, paid internships, last week submitted the list of 100 potential transgressors to junior employment minister Jo Swinson MP, who referred it to HMRC.

A spokesperson for HMRC said it always investigated information received concerning the breach of national minimum wage law.

Gus Baker, co-director of Intern Aware, refused to name the firms on the list, but confirmed that there are small- and mid-sized agencies. Food and fashion PR firms are prevalent among those named and shamed to Government.

Baker said: ‘We’re not saying these firms are definitely breaking the law, but these roles look like they are entitled to the minimum wage and the advertised jobs could be done by paid staff.’

The campaign group built its list by crowd-sourcing information from vacancies advertised on popular job sites including Internwise and w4mp, and said it was already building follow-up lists to submit for investigation.

The development casts a shadow on the comms industry’s treatment of interns,despite ongoing work by the CIPR, the PRCA, PRWeek and Intern Aware to combat the issue [see timeline, below].

The PRWeek/PRCA campaign to end the practice of unpaid internships launched in October 2011, with a list of member agencies committed to paying at least the national minimum wage. The number has risen by ten since the start of this year to 85 out of 311 members.

Job ads for a number of comms agencies looking for full-time interns offering no pay aside from expenses have appeared online. These include Cubo PR, which is advertising for a three- to six-month internship.

Baker emphasised that Cubo is not on its list but said that ‘companies such as Cubo’ risk restricting their pool of potential employees to those who can afford to work for free.

Cubo had not responded as PRWeek went to press.

Interns timeline

April 2013 Eighty-five agencies are listed by PRCA as paying interns at least the national minimum wage.

June 2012  Arcadia makes retrospective payments to unpaid PR interns.

June 2012 PRCA and Intern Aware research finds that of 150 young PR professionals, 23 per cent were unpaid.

March 2012 The CIPR launches an ‘Internship and Work Placement’ toolkit.

Oct 2011 PRWeek and PRCA launch campaign to end unpaid internships backed by Deputy PM Nick Clegg.

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