Nine UK firms ordered to pay unpaid interns £200,000

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Yesterday, following a crackdown by UK Revenue and Customs, nine leading British companies were ordered to hand over nearly £200,000 in fines and payouts to interns who had been working for free. Over in the UK, this is a landmark case in relation to unpaid internships.

HMRC looked into 40 cases where employers were accused of using interns as full members of staff in 2012-13, nine of whom they have taken action against. While HMRC have refused to identify any of the nine companies involved, Arcadia have confirmed they have ‘worked with HMRC’ regarding the making of payments to former interns.

Arcadia, owned by billionaire Sir Philip Green, run Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Burtons, BHS and Dorothy Perkins, have recruited interns in their London head office.

 Emily Wong, 23, a Royal Holloway University graduate and one such intern, spent a month working at Miss Selfridge in 2011 doing administrative tasks in the PR department. In return she was given a travel and lunch allowance.

Thousands of companies all over the world, including in Ireland, regularly recruit graduate workers without pay and only give them expenses or a small allowance for their efforts. This seems to be particularly common trend in the communications industry and I really don’t understand why, when that intern is doing a full time job.

Michelle Wyer, assistant director of HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team, said: ‘Unpaid interns can provide valuable opportunities. However, we are clear that employing unpaid interns instead of workers in order to avoid the National Minimum Wage is wrong. That is why we are cracking down on it. When an intern makes a complaint to the Pay and Work Rights Helpline about their pay conditions that case is prioritised within HMRC to ensure their employer is complying with the law. Where that’s not the case, HMRC will not hesitate to take action. Paying the national minimum wage is the law not a choice, and the rules apply to all employers equally.’

I only hope the Irish government wake up soon and this case is echoed in Ireland, although, I very much doubt it will be.

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