In-house and agency heads review unpaid intern policies following campaign

PR agencies and in-house comms teams alike are turning their backs on unpaid internships following pressure from the joint PRWeek/PRCA campaign to end the exploitative practice.

Rethink: Habitat has changed its policy on unpaid internships (Credit: Habitat)
Rethink: Habitat has changed its policy on unpaid internships (Credit: Habitat)

PRWeek research into intern positions advertised on various job websites within the past four months found more than 30 roles that could potentially contravene minimum wage legislation.

However, when quizzed on the ads, a number of in-house and agency heads said they had since reviewed their policies and had removed the job specs. Some were speaking on the condition of anonymity.

LDR London was among those that recently advertised an expenses-only three-month internship, but has now committed to paying national minimum wage unless interns have a voluntary position lasting less than two weeks or are interning at the agency as part of a recognised higher education course.

LDR London founder Louis de Rohan said: ‘The debate in PRWeek forced us to be precise. We strongly support giving young people an opportunity to experience an environment they may want to enter as a career and paying them the national minimum wage.’

Furniture retailer Habitat has also changed its policy of ad-hoc unpaid internships in favour of a six-month paid contract. ‘I feel strongly that under no circumstances should people think we are exploiting [interns]. Now we have a paid internship and the salary is benchmarked against other salaries in the company,’ said Habitat head of marketing Jocelyn Dowden.

Others, including fashion label Jigsaw, clarified that their intern posts were only for those in full-time education and using them as part of their course.

The PRCA has also signed up another in-house comms team, Sport England, to its Intern Programme, bringing the total number of signatories to 89.

Fashion brand Alberta Ferretti, H Samuel owner Signet and PR agency Propeller London were among those that declined to provide clarification on their intern ads.

Martin Loat, CEO of Propeller, did comment: 'We create a lot of job opportunities that I’m proud of.'

Meanwhile, Monster.com, one of the UK’s largest online recruitment websites, announced it would stop advertising positions that did not comply with national minimum wage law.

Following talks with campaign group InternAware, careers website GraduateFog and MP Hazel Blears, Monster’s managing director Andrew Sumner announced: ‘As a bare minimum, we insist in our terms and conditions that all job posts adhere to UK employment law.

‘We vet and screen adverts placed on our site to advise our customers on compliance. And as an extra precaution Monster actively asks its users to report any suspicious job postings via a "report this job" button. We will happily remove any postings that our users alert us to, if these are found not to comply with the minimum wage law.’

The decision follows increased campaigning on the issue of unpaid internships, including targeting job sites that host ads for unpaid intern positions, as well as the companies that are seeking to hire them.

Hazel Blears tabled a parliamentary bill at the end of 2012 seeking to prohibit the advertising of long-term unpaid internships, receiving cross-party support on its first reading in the House of Commons.

In a column for PRWeek, Jo Swinson, the minister for employment relations and consumer affairs, outlined her commitment to cracking down on the exploitation of interns.

Government intern guidance

• Internships have no legal status of their own. National minimum wage law applies to all those classed as workers and employees.

If an intern is a worker they should be paid the national minimum wage unless an exemption applies – such as students in work experience for less than 12 months.

Interns can complain up to six years after unpaid work (five in Scotland).

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