PR agencies and in-house communications teams alike are turning their backs on unpaid internships following pressure from the joint PRWeek UK/Public Relations Consultants Association campaign to end the exploitative practice.
PRWeek UK research into intern positions advertised on various job websites in 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 removed the job ads. Some were speaking on the condition of anonymity.
LDR London was among those that recently advertised an expenses-only three-month internship. However, it has since 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 recognized higher-education course.
“The debate in PRWeek UK 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,” said LDR London founder Louis de Rohan.
Furniture retailer Habitat has also changed its policy of ad hoc unpaid internships in favor of a six-month paid contract.
“I feel strongly that under no circumstances should people think we are exploiting [interns],” said Habitat head of marketing Jocelyn Dowden. “Now we have a paid internship and the salary is benchmarked against other salaries in the company.”
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 program, 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 that “we create a lot of job opportunities that I'm proud of.”
Meanwhile, Monster.com, one of the UK's largest online recruitment websites, said it will stop advertising positions that do not comply with national minimum-wage law.
Following talks with campaign group InternAware, careers website GraduateFog, and MP Hazel Blears, Monster MD Andrew Sumner announced that “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,” he said. “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 last year 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 UK, 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, he or she 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).
This story originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK, the sister publication of PRWeek at Haymarket Media.