Companies are forced to shell out back payments to interns providing free labour, as HM Revenue and Customs crack down on work experience contracts.
Intern schemes have fallen prey to heavy criticism in recent years, due to the unpaid nature of the contracts. Images of poor graduates being holed up in fashion cupboards or office filing rooms are no longer surprising. But where the normal sigh of ‘getting a foot on the career ladder’ through free labour seemed genuinely plausible, companies are now bordering on the line of legality as unpaid contracts keep extending to unreasonable lengths.
Defending the company name against future critique regarding intern payment is Arcadia – owner of Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, amongst other well-known high street stores. The business has sent hundreds of pounds worth of back-dated payments to dozens of interns who had ‘to ship clothing back and forth to media contacts from a ‘windowless’ stockroom’ during their time at the company, reports the Guardian.
The company were put under pressure after receiving complaints about an unpaid internship at Arcadia-owned Miss Selfridge, as well as the recent campaign, fronted by HM Revenue and Customs, to pay all interns minimum age when the worker is over the age of 21.
Defending his position within the Arcadia family, Sir Philip Green said of the situation: ‘We’ve done everything we think we’re supposed to do. We think we’ve been leaders in education in the fashion retail business. We’ve built an academy. We’ve got 700 kids working. We try to encourage other people. We’ve done our job.’
The company subsequently made a separate statement, following the payments, confirming that they were ‘perfectly satisfied’ their internship policies fully complied with the new legislation.
HMRC, meanwhile, forge ahead with their mission to crack down on companies taking advantage of free intern labour. ‘There is no excuse for not paying the minimum wage, and HMRC will relentlessly pursue those who try to bend or break the rules,’ asserted a spokesperson for the HMRC.
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