The TUC and the National Union of Students (NUS) are launching a new campaign today (Monday) calling for the fair treatment of interns. The event at TUC headquarters in central London marks the beginning of a year of campaign activity for fairer and better internships.

The TUC and NUS say they are concerned that interns around the UK are being exploited through unpaid work. Unions fear that many employers have sought to take advantage of graduates’ desperation to find work in the economic downturn and so see interns as a useful source of free labour. Others may be unaware that non-payment of interns is a breach of the law and of national minimum wage rules, warns the TUC.

Monday’s event will feature contributions from the TUC, NUS, campaign groups and interns themselves, and the TUC will also launch a ‘Rights for Interns’ Smartphone application.

The phone app, which can be downloaded to Apple and Android phones free of charge, features tools to help interns evaluate their own internship, or ones they are considering, as well as general guidance on work rights they are entitled to and minimum wage rates. Interns who think they should be paid can use the app to find out what they are owed.

TUC Deputy General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said:

“Whether they are unscrupulous or genuinely unaware of the rules, too many employers are ripping off young people by employing them in unpaid internships that are not only unfair but, in most cases, probably illegal.

“Internships can offer a kick-start to a career that many young people value. But as more and more graduates are being forced to turn to internships in place of traditional entry level jobs, we’re concerned that a growing number of interns are at risk of real exploitation.

“It is vital that we crack down on those internships that offer little but hard graft for no reward. Employers need to know that there’s no such thing as free labour.”