Grad Scheming (6): How to get around paying interns minimum wage – a Tory Guide (warning: contains heavy sarcasm)

How to get around paying interns minimum wage - a Tory Guide (warning: contains heavy sarcasm)

I know it’s tempting to toy with the fantasy that your government cares about you. I’m here to pop that bubble with the sharp corner of a Tory memo, leaked yesterday, advising on how to get around the tiresome business of paying interns minimum wage (also known as “obeying the law”).

You can find the memo here, helpfully labelled “pricks.png” by blogger Guido Fawkes:


First, it states what has been long been labelled a “grey area” by disingenuous employers who don’t want to waste money on frivolous things like paying for labour: “in UK employment law no such thing as an intern exists. They are either volunteers or workers.” (They’ve learned that, at least.)

It goes on to explain the difference: a worker has to be paid, a volunteer doesn’t, as volunteers “are free to come and go as they please”.

So how do they get out of paying campaign interns, who clearly do a job? Well, the memo cackles, it’s all about using fluffy language – avoid using words like “You will be expected to”, “work” and “tasks”, and instead say “volunteer” and “the kind of activities it would be great to get some help with include…”

And don’t, for the love of god, pay a flat rate of expenses, as “Regular payments of expenses are likely to give the volunteer the right to the minimum wage.” Heaven forbid.

This sends out a pretty clear message to employers out there: “exploiting young people? Go ahead, it’s all semantics.”

“Everything possible”

This slimy secretion comes from the same guys who claimed, “We’re all in this together” and the even more laughable, “We’re doing everything possible to get young people jobs”. Yes, they’re doing everything – apart from, you know…ANYTHING. At ALL. They can hardly claim to be doing “everything possible” when they’re not even doing something as simple as obeying the law in the building of the their own election campaigns.

One of the most chilling things about this memo, apart from its blatant lack of respect for our entire generation, is that they’re referring to campaign interns (sorry, “volunteers”) for their own party. They’re calling for gullible young people to help get this walking Portaloo another term as Prime Minster – the very man responsible for putting them in a position where they have to work for free.

Exploitation: a rebrand

Changing the name of the “interns” to the “volunteers” is a change of semantics and absolutely nothing else. In their efforts to avoid coughing up a poverty wage, their job descriptions will state that volunteers can “come and go as they please”, but don’t be fooled: the culture of the work will remain. Those who behave as if they are being paid – turning up at 9am, grinding out all day – are the ones who will get noticed, a glowing reference, a chance at a real job. Those who behave like volunteers – leaving in the afternoon because they have to go to a part time job so they can afford to eat – will not. Not only does this nasty little policy drag us back into the problem of only the rich getting ahead, but now they’re able to string along any “volunteers” who actually believe they can “come and go as they please” without consequences for their career. In short, anyone who behaves like a volunteer will remain one.

What has this memo taught us?

This memo is incontrovertible proof that the Tories do not care about making sure young people get jobs. Not on their dime. If even the possibility of unpaid labour still exists, however slimly obtained, they’re going to grasp it in their sweaty, pudgy paws. Has there ever been a government so passionately committed to reinforcing the barrier between young people and paid employment?

What action should we take?

There is hope. The marginalised youth are “in” this year. We’re creeping into the press, there are youth campaigns popping up all over the place, and we’re slowly changing opinions. Keep talking about it, and do not fall into the apathy of “that’s the way it is”.

More importantly, DO NOT APPLY FOR ANY VOLUNTEER JOBS. Well, volunteer at your local hospital or library all you want – I mean don’t accept “volunteer” jobs. But do send an application that says “We know what you’re doing”, preferably over and over again like that bit in the Shining, maybe throw in a block or two of, “All work and no job makes Jack a public health time bomb”, and instead of your CV, attach their leaked memo.

Also, if you see a job ad for a “volunteer” that uses the memo’s suspect terminology, please send it to me. I will not name you, and I will happily name and shame them (the last thing we need is the eyes of employers coming alive with glee at the idea, “We could do that too!”) Hopefully that will lead to another memo, “Abort the plan, just pay them minimum wage, we can afford it.”

I’d like to end this article by addressing a few words to this government: how dare you. How dare you waste the talent of this country’s youth. How dare you squander the abilities, education and spark of those who can’t afford to work for free. How dare you delay the careers of those who can work for free, but still shouldn’t have to. How dare you squirm and slither around a law that’s been put in place for fairness. Simple fairness.

To that end, you’re fired. That’s right – all of you. You were elected to do a job and you’ve failed miserably. Don’t worry though – today’s your lucky day, because we’re looking for some “running the country volunteers”. The kind of activities it would be great to get some help with include: denying things, wearing wellies while staring at floods, and giving a single, solitary shit about the people you’re supposed to be representing.

If you liked this article, check out the rest of Erica’s Grad Scheming series – from what it’s like working at The Guardian to surviving a grad scheme with your sanity intactGoThinkBig

2 thoughts on “Grad Scheming (6): How to get around paying interns minimum wage – a Tory Guide (warning: contains heavy sarcasm)

  1. Pingback: Today was going to be the day… | howtobejobless

  2. Having interned in Portcullis House the worst type of internship isn’t necessarily unpaid. It is the internship that leads nowhere where gopher tasks are mopped up by an intern but no entry level job ever appears. Having done such an internship I would have actually preferred an unpaid one where there was some possibility of a genuine entry-level researcher job at the end of it!

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