Croydon Central’s gaffe-prone MP Gavin Barwell is seeking a couple of slaves, or possibly a pair of recent graduates who are gullible enough or desperate enough, and also have well-heeled parents who don’t mind subsidising the Tory MP’s election campaign for up to six months.
That’s the nub of the without-scruples deal in what passes for a job ad which was published yesterday. And according to one campaign group, Barwell may even be breaking employment law in seeking to use long-term, unpaid interns.
As a Government whip, Barwell – salary £67,000 per year – should be well aware that since 1998, it has been illegal to employ someone and not pay them at least the National Minimum Wage.
The offer contained within Barwell’s recruitment ad is so questionable that the webmaster at W4MPs website has inserted an important caveat – to legally cover their own arses, if not the MP’s – which states, “The role being advertised is a voluntary one. As such, there are no set hours and responsibilities and you should be free to come and go as you wish. If the post demands set hours and/or has a specific job description you may be deemed to be a ‘worker’ and be covered by National Minimum Wage legislation“.
Unpaid internships continue to be controversial for the manner in which many are seen to exploit enthusiastic and idealistic youngsters, getting them to perform all the functions of a full-time employee on the cheap. Or in Barwell’s case, for no pay whatsoever.
This is seen as being especially exploitative at a time of relatively high unemployment when jobs, especially for new graduates, are notoriously hard to find.
According to Barwell’s non-job ad, the successful candidates should “have sympathy for the Conservative Party” (so that may reduce the potential field significantly) and “ideally, have access to a car” (presumably daddy’s BMW?).
The internships won’t even provide a whiff of glamour by being based at Barwell’s Westminster office. The positions on offer are voluntary, though travel expenses and lunch will be provided, but the two interns are expected to graft for up to six months under the tutelage of Barwell’s full-time election agent, former Coulsdon councillor Ian Parker, at the local Tories’ somewhat suburban HQ in … Purley. So they will be based away from Barwell’s Croydon Central constituency.
It is the potential six-month term of the Barwell internships which appears especially cynical, and exploitative.
As recently as May, MPs in Parliament voted in broad support for a bill brought forward by one of Barwell’s Tory colleagues and which seeks to limit the term of unpaid internships to no more than four weeks.
Barwell’s ad has appeared just as the country’s universities are turning out another wave of fresh new graduates, all eager for their first big break.
The TUC takes a dim view of prominent figures such as MPs seeking to exploit their public position by getting people to work for nothing. “The TUC believes that MPs should pay people who are genuinely doing a job rather than merely volunteering,” a spokesperson told Inside Croydon.
“If what they are doing looks and feels like a job then it should simply be paid just like any other job.”
The lobbying organisation Intern Aware maintains that not only are long-term unpaid internships exploitative, they are also socially damaging, as only the off-spring of the wealthy are able to afford to work for nothing, as Barwell is seeking in Croydon.
“Working for free doesn’t come cheap,” Intern Aware says.
“Unpaid internships are overwhelmingly based in London, where the cost of living is amongst the highest in the UK… Internships vary in length, but almost all last three months or longer. Three months working for free could cost an intern over £3,000. That’s money that most simply don’t have.”
By that reckoning, Barwell is seeking a couple of families to “donate” more than £6,000 in time and free labour.
The financial disadvantages for unpaid interns are numerous. Anyone signing up for Barwell’s six months campaigning are unlikely to be able to claim Job Seekers’ Allowance, since they are not available for other work opportunities, and unable to attend the local job centre. At least Barwell will be able to claim to have wiped another two people off the unemployment statistics.
Intern Aware also has a warning for those, like Barwell, who seek to recruit long-term, unpaid interns. It could all end up costing him many thousands of pounds: “Unpaid internships aren’t just wrong; in most cases they are illegal.
“Under employment law, people who work set hours, do set tasks and contribute value to an organisation are ‘workers’ and are entitled to the minimum wage. This means even if your internship was just about being expected to turn up at a certain time and add some numbers in Excel, you are likely to be entitled to pay.
“Every time an intern has taken their employer to court for not being paid the minimum wage they have won.”
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: Tracks, July 24
- Lives Not Knives beer fund-raiser, July 24
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- David Lean Cinema: Locke, July 31
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, Aug 2
- Patchwork and quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, Aug 4
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 6
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 13
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Aug 16
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 20
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 27
- Upper Norwood Library well-being groups, Aug 30
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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