MPs vote for change – but this is just the first step

You might have caught it on the news or in the paper but on Tuesday, for the first time in Parliament, MPs held a debate on unpaid internships. The issue had ever been voted on before, but MPs divided 181-19 in favour of an end unpaid internships. This was a huge victory and very exciting for the campaign!

The motion put to MPs was not only for an end to unpaid internships, but called for the introduction of a ‘Four Week Rule’. This would add clarification to the current law, whilst maintaining many of the current protections already in place. At present, many unpaid internships are breaking the law under the National Minimum Wage Act. However, some businesses are trying to side-step this by claiming that interns aren’t doing real work or adding value to the business. The Four Week Rule would cap unpaid work experience to four weeks, after which interns would automatically become ‘workers’ and entitled to pay.

This would not mean that businesses can simply start to have four week long, unpaid internships. The Four Week Rule simply acts as an extra layer of protection to ensure long-term unpaid work is stopped, but anyone that works any amount of real work with set hours and tasks would still be entitled to pay. Genuine volunteering and university placement exemptions would be unaffected. We believe that the Four Week Rule gives interns an increased ability to call out unfair internships and near-eradicate exploitation, as well as making it very clear to businesses what is and is not acceptable.

As Parliament is about to prorogue, it is unlikely that the motion will get the chance to go on to be a law this time. However, this motion and vote were a huge step forward for the campaign, and hopefully we are getting closer to ending unpaid internships.

There are a few people who we feel deserve a special mention for their hard work on this issue.

The motion was put to MPs by a Conservative, Alec Shelbrooke MP. I first met with Alec after he had written an article for the Daily Mirror criticising unpaid internships. We went away excited to have a strong supporter, but could not have predicted the fantastic effort and determination to bring this motion to the House.

Hazel Blears, the Labour MP for Salford, has been one of our most hardworking and devoted supporters since we started out several years ago. If it hadn’t been for Hazel, we wouldn’t have reached even half of the goals we set out to achieve.

Another special mention must go to the Liberal Democrat MPs Mike Crockart and Julian Huppert, who have been long-time supporters and really helped to make sure there was cross-party support for this motion.

We would like to thank all of our supporters for their kind words and efforts, as well as every single one of the 181 MPs that voted in favour of the motion.