Scrap unpaid internships, Leeds Beckett Students' Union urges

Employers are being urged to ditch unpaid internships and treat young people with more respect by a student organisation.

Kelly-anne Watson and John Goodwin from Leeds Beckett Students' Union.

Leeds Beckett Students’ Union, representing around 25,000 students, has launched a new accreditation scheme for employers.

The scheme called Fair Deal for Interns ranks businesses on their treatment of interns and placement students.

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Kelly-anne Watson, pictured, vice president for welfare and community at the Students’ Union, said: “Unfortunately, there are many companies who are willing to exploit students by expecting them to work for nothing, or at rates below the national living wage – even when they are making contributions to the work of the company that would normally be carried out by paid employees.”

Robert Minton-Taylor.

Ms Watson added that unpaid internships have an adverse impact on social mobility with students from less well-off backgrounds being deprived of opportunities.

The Fair Deal for Interns scheme awards an accreditation rating of bronze, silver or gold to would-be employers. If a business commits to paying interns the National Living Wage after 20 days and puts in place a learning contract then it gets a bronze rating.

Silver ratings are given to employers who pay interns the National Living Wage from day one, while gold is awarded to those that pay the Real Living Wage as set out by the Living Wage Foundation.

The accreditation came about as a result of Ms Watson’s own experience interning and lecturer in public relations at Leeds Beckett, Robert Minton-Taylor’s involvement.

Mr Minton-Taylor, who has had a career spanning five decades in the PR industry, couldn’t believe students weren’t being paid for placements.

He said: “It’s unacceptable when you hear what the cost of living for most students is. Even in the North it’s quite high.”

The lecturer wants unpaid internships to be made illegal. He approached the students’ union after finding out from young people he was teaching that many businesses were not paying interns.

The accreditation has started by focusing on the PR and marketing industry but wants to sign up businesses across all industries.

Leeds Beckett Students’ Union hopes that similar accreditation schemes will be rolled out by all students’ unions across the country.

John Goodwin, head of membership engagement at the Leeds Beckett Students’ Union, said: “If it takes off we’d absolutely love to see other unions doing the same thing. That’s one of the goals, to try and get this beyond Leeds Beckett.”

According to social mobility charity, Sutton Trust, there are around 70,000 internships each year and following the Matthew Taylor review into modern working practices, the Government has vowed to crackdown on unpaid internships.

Campaign backing

The Fair Deal for Interns scheme already has the backing of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA).

Sarah Hall, president of the CIPR, said: “Unpaid internships are a stain on the PR industry. Failure to pay interns encourages a culture of economic prejudice and deprives our profession of diverse talent.”

Robert Minton-Taylor says students add value to businesses and that he doesn’t “buy” the skills gap excuse. “If there weren’t the students there they’d have to get someone from the job centre to fill the role.”