Branch secretary Louise Haigh accused many MPs of flouting the law by not paying the minimum wage in a recent article on Parliamentary internships in the Daily Mirror. The article is available here and reproduced below:
MPs are discriminating against poorer students because it’s only rich kids who can afford to work for them for nothing.
Almost 800 youngsters were signed up as “interns” last year, says the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Many put in a full working week carrying out research, handling constituents’ sensitive problems and even acting as office managers.
MPs may pay their expenses such as the cost of travel but some don’t receive that, which campaigners say breaks minimum wage laws.
Critics also say that youngsters from poorer homes can’t afford to work for free to get a foot on the career ladder.
The Tories’ 307 MPs employed a total of 338 interns, compared to the 283 used by Labour’s 258 members in Westminster.
The worst offenders were the Lib Dems who employed a staggering 166 interns despite having only 57 MPs, figures released under freedom of information laws showed.
The disclosure comes as an embarrassment to party leader Nick Clegg, who vowed to end Whitehall’s “who you know” culture by scrapping the system of informal internships and reaching out to youngsters who may not have contacts in Government.
Louise Haigh, of the Unite union’s Parliamentary branch, accused MPs of flouting the law by not paying the minimum wage.
Ms Haigh said: “The law is very clear on this: if a person is required to perform set tasks and work set hours, they are classified as a worker and entitled to the National Minimum Wage. MPs of all people should know this, they created the law in the first place.
“The significant numbers in Liberal Democrat offices reveal the hypocrisy behind Nick Clegg’s commitment to social mobility and to ending unpaid work in politics.
“If Clegg is serious, he should launch an investigation into illegal employment practices in his MPs’ offices, as should all party leaders.”
A spokesman for Mr Clegg insisted that forcing MPs or firms to pay more than expenses would cut the opportunities available to young people who want to be interns.
But Ben Lyons, of Intern Aware, said not paying interns properly stopped young people from hard-up backgrounds starting on a political career.
Mr Lyons said: “It is shocking to see they are very happy to make the headlines talking about social mobility not putting it into practice in their own offices.
“It is important that MPs back up their words with action to make sure that Parliament is full of people who reflect the country at large and it is not just a narrow group of white, middle class men.”