Tory MP wants election helpers to work unpaid for six months

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.

MP Gavin Barwell: an expert in offering a pig in a poke

MP Gavin Barwell: an expert in offering a pig in a poke

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.”

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5 Responses to Tory MP wants election helpers to work unpaid for six months

  1. According to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, the situations when interns aren’t due the National Minimum Wage are as follows:

    * Students required to do an internship for less than 1 year as part of a UK-based further or higher education course aren’t entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

    * School work experience students of compulsory school age, ie under 16, aren’t entitled to the minimum wage.

    * Voluntary workers aren’t entitled to the minimum wage if BOTH of the following apply:

    1. they’re working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body or a statutory body
    2. they don’t get paid, except for limited benefits (eg reasonable travel or lunch expenses)

    Work shadowing

    * The employer doesn’t have to pay the minimum wage if an internship only involves shadowing an employee, ie no work is carried out by the intern and they are only observing.

    Based on the above, I don’t see how how the Croydon Central MP can avoid paying his new staff the new National Minimum Wage of £6.50 per hour if they’re over 21 (or, God forbid in a free market, the London Living Wage, currently £8.80).

    Perhaps Batman, or his gobby factotum, Robin, could enlighten us?

  2. derekthrower says:

    Oh come on they will be learning from the master. Errrrgh Gavin Barwell.

  3. tomvoute says:

    It should also be pointed out that if you are not properly employed, or not on benefits like Job Seeker’s Allowance, you do not get any National Insurance contributions credited to you, which could reduce such Interns’ future state pension and other benefits.

    By the way, readers should know what Mr Barwell’s job as “government whip” actually means. A government whip cajoles Members of Parliament to vote as instructed, never mind whether they agree or disagree. Most of the time, however, they don’t understand what they are voting on at all because they are not given proper time to scrutinise proposed legislation.

    It reduces our expensive Members of Parliament to a bunch of robots in a sausage factory, whose job could be done at much less tax-payers’ expense by unemployed actors are paid only the statutory minimum wage (on zero hours contracts of course) to go through the voting lobbies as instructed by the government whips.

    That is the whips’ contribution to the democratic process.

  4. Andrew Leng says:

    In reference to Tomvoute’s comments, Barwell is the perfect MP for the role of “government whip”. He’s slavishly loyal to David Cameron. You only have to look at Barwell’s blog to see how fawning he is towards his leader. I’ve lost count of how many times he parrots the Tory line on everything. Yet he claimed before the last election that he would be an independent-minded constituency MP giving a strong voice to all his constituents (unless you work in the public sector of course). Pretty disappointing on the face of it.

    Unpaid internships are wrong. Surely people should be paid a living wage and have decency at work for however long they are employed. Didn’t the House of Commons recently pass a 10-minute rule bill, which makes it an offence for employers not to pay interns for work? In fact one of Barwell’s Tory colleagues, Alec Shelbrooke MP, said unpaid internships were an “impediment to social mobility” and that, “In a nation such as ours, nobody should be expected to work for free. Work should be rewarded.”

    So surely Barwell should practice what the Tories preach; ie making work pay. If he has a conscience he will… oh wait a minute.

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