Great document put together by the UK Department for Business Innovation & Skills: Internships and National Minimum Wage – Frequently Asked Questions. The answers do not surprise us the slightest.
Does it matter what I call the internship/job? Whether someone is entitled to the national minimum wage depends on the actual circumstances of the arrangement, not the title given to the job or the role.
As they say in the UK: What’s in a name?
They make an interesting distinction between “worker” and “volunteer”.
If you have a contract of employment then you are a worker. (…) A volunteer does not have any form of contract of employment or contract to perform work or provide services.
And before any employer think they have found the loophole, note that “the contract does not need to be written”.
This is an argument that always puzzle me: interns are paid in work experience. Who doesn’t gain work experience through their job? How does that cancel the need to pay an employee? The BIS does not tiptoe around the issue when asked whether someone who is doing work experience needs to be paid:
Someone who enters into an agreement or contract to work for experience will be a “worker” for national minimum wage purposes and entitled to be paid the national minimum wage in the normal way, unless they are a genuine volunteer or fall into one of the groups who are exempt.
And very importantly, they provide guidance on how to report an unfair internship in the UK:
If someone thinks they are a “worker” and not being paid the national minimum wage, they can ring the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368 (Text phone 0800 121 4042). The Helpline is open from 8 am to 8 pm (Monday to Friday) and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.