Election 2015

Miliband pledge to end long-term unpaid internships

Ed Miliband Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Labour's Ed Miliband said it was time to end a system that was rigged in favour of the rich

Ed Miliband has pledged to put an end to long-term unpaid internships if he becomes the next prime minister.

The Labour leader promised to ban placements that last for more than four weeks in order to end "the scandal" of unpaid work experience.

He claimed the poorest young people are held back from good jobs by a system "rigged" to benefit the wealthy.

But the British Chambers of Commerce warned that "blanket legislation" could put work experience at risk.

Speaking at the launch of Labour's manifesto for young people in Lincoln, Mr Miliband said a Labour government would force companies to pay interns at least the minimum wage if they kept them on for more than a month.

He said: "In this country, if you want a good job in a highly-prized sector, you're often asked to work for free, often for months on end, sometimes even a year.

"It's a system that's rigged in favour of those who can afford it."

'Taking flight'

Educational charity the Sutton Trust estimates there are around 22,000 unpaid interns in the UK at any one time, with about 31% of graduates on placements not being paid.

Mr Miliband added: "It's not fair, it's not right and actually it prevents our companies drawing on all the talents our nation has to offer.

"So we'll put a stop to it. We'll end the scandal of unpaid internships."

He also announced plans to guarantee high-quality apprenticeships for all school-leavers who achieve the necessary grades and ensure paid starter jobs, with training, for young people unemployed for more than a year.

"If you get the grades we will guarantee you an apprenticeship," he said.

The Labour leader also reaffirmed his party's promise to cut tuition fees to £6,000, and increase maintenance grants by £400 a year to support students from low-income backgrounds.

"Debt shouldn't be weighing you down, when you should be taking flight," he said.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption The Lib Dems say there has been a review of employment status.

Ben Lyons, co-founder of the campaign group Intern Aware, said ending unpaid internships would make a real difference to thousands of young people entering the job market.

"The current chasm between twenty-somethings who can afford to work for months on end for free and those who can't is bad for social mobility, bad for business and bad for Britain," he said.

But the business lobbying group the CBI has said it is "wary" of the proposal.

And executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce Adam Marshall said: "While no business should use unpaid interns as a substitute for paid staff, no government should put the prospect of work experience at risk through blanket legislation or regulation."

Instead, he said government and business should work together "to clarify the definition of what an internship is, how long it should last, and whether it should be remunerated".

A Conservative spokesman said employers who exploited interns should be reported under present laws and that Labour "should first explain why some of their celebrity supporters use them - not to mention many of their MPs".

"Exploiting unpaid interns is clearly unacceptable," he said.

The Liberal Democrats said its government ministers had conducted a review of employment status "to provide clarity on the issue" so people know if they're entitled to the minimum wage".

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