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Cashback for interns

Have you worked as a media intern in the last six years? If so, the National Union of Journalists may be able to help you claim back the National Minimum Wage (NMW). You could be entitled to up to £237 for every 40-hour week of the internship (if you are 21 or over).

The NUJ is launching a campaign, led by London Freelance Branch, to ensure that those starting out in the industry are paid a basic minimum wage. Anyone who has completed an internship within the last three months can claim the NMW through an Employment Tribunal, while in the county court there is a six-year limit. NMW provisions do not apply to students on work experience placements, however. And since 1 October there is a new, lower minimum wage for formal apprenticeships: suspicious minds are watching that space.

The move to pursue the NMW is in line with the ruling of Reading Employment Tribunal in November 2009, which found in favour of a film production intern. Nicola Vetta had agreed to work for expenses only. She later decided, with the help of the Broadcast, Entertainment and Cinema trade union BECTU, to claim back-dated NMW after the internship ended. The tribunal recognised that Vetta had been engaged as a worker, regardless of being designated an intern.

The NUJ would like to help other interns claim their minimum wage entitlement, in conjunction with the union's legal team. An agreement in advance to work for nothing, whether written or oral, will not affect an intern's statutory entitlement to be paid.

The use of unpaid interns is on the rise, particularly within the media industry. NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear says: "Internships are increasingly being used to fill long-term staffing gaps with free labour, rather than providing a learning opportunity." This harms both the interns and those who cannot afford to sacrifice wages in order to get on the career ladder. Jeremy adds: "The scandalous use of unpaid internships, providing an entry route for those unburdened by the usual day-to-day financial realities, has undermined the diversity of our profession.

"A campaign drawing together trade unions and other organisations opposed to this cheap labour merry-go-round is now essential and we will play our part in the campaign to bring exploitative employers to book."

Paid internships can provide valuable experience for those starting out in the industry, without exploitation. NUJ London Freelance Branch hopes to ensure that all future internships fall into this category. If you are an intern and would like the Union's assistance in claiming wages you may be owed, please get in touch by email: interns@londonfreelance.org.

Last modified: 05 Oct 2010 - © 2010 contributors
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