New guidelines have been inforced making salary obligations clear to companies taking on work experience, placements or interns.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has announced new guidelines to make it clear whether these workers are eligible for the National Minimum Wage (NMW), which could make it easier for them to enforce their consumer rights.

Mike Hill, chief executive of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) which runs the National Council for Work Experience (NCWE) comments following the launch of the new National Minimum Wage (NMW) guidelines:

“There is nothing new about work experience in its many guises, but the last year has seen unprecedented focus on the debate about paid/unpaid work experience. The NCWE has been in the thick of it, arguing strongly that the presumption should be for payment of at least the NMW unless there are certain over-riding factors.

“Historically it has been difficult to classify when the NMW applies and this is what the new guidelines seek to address. This is welcome news, as by providing more clarity, there is less ambiguity and both the employer and the worker are better protected. Internships should not just be for the wealthy and so the guidelines also go some way to help create a fairer market, redressing the balance.

“However, for years some companies and business leaders have associated the term ‘work experience’ with free labour, and there is still some way to go to change current attitudes and practices when it comes to taking on interns, particularly in sectors such as media, politics and advertising.

“The new guidelines provide the first prescriptive direction on how the NMW should be applied and we now all have work to do in communicating them, ensuring a fair wage for a fair effort.

“Fundamentally, high quality work experience/internships should benefit employer and student/graduate roughly equally, and if the employer is not getting a benefit or boost to their business or organisation, then the placement is not high quality; and if it is properly set up, and the company is benefiting, then the student is adding value and should be rewarded.”

It has made it clear that eligibility is not based on job title but on whether or not their tasks bring them within the definition of ‘worker’, in which case they must be paid the NMW.