So the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The delicious pudding being the new guidelines regarding the payment of the national minimum wage published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (I was about to type business, enterprise and regulatory reform, I miss the old names, I really do)
Of course we’re really pleased with these guidelines because they support the idea that NMW regulations should apply to all potential workers, including unpaid interns. The guidance is comprehensive and includes tests which employers can do themselves to work out when they should or shouldn’t be paying the NMW to their staff. NMW regulations and the definition of intern or worker are often characterised as confusing but we hope that these legal tests will provide some clarity to employers who are genuinely not sure whether they are obliged to pay their interns.
As the TUC has stated and as the evidence submitted to the Low Pay Commission this year has reinforced:
The growing misuse of interns is becoming one of the biggest abuses of the minimum wage.
And by consequence, the TUC adds,
It’s good to see the government finally taking this issue seriously, and it’s essential that today’s guidance is used by young people to ensure that they get paid what they are due.
So what’s the caveat? Guidelines and the law need to be both publicised and reinforced. So firstly, we’d like to promote these guidelines far and wide- but also see the government doing the same (we know there have been a lot of cuts to communications budgets but what’s the point of publishing guidelines if no one reads them?) Secondly, as the TUC has stated, rules mean nothing without the necessary reinforcement- so, for example, the Pay and Work rights helpline needs to be able to follow up complaints and persistent offenders need to be investigated.