Internships and Volunteers
The rights of interns and voluntary workers
Internships are an excellent way of gaining work experience straight out of further education - whether paid or unpaid, they can provide a great deal of ‘hands on’ experience in a graduate’s desired sector of industry.
When referring to a ‘placement’, one could usually mean in effect an ‘internship’, which is sometimes paid - though in the case of a placement which is a year in length and integrated into study, or which takes the form of a sandwich course, usually the work will be unpaid.
Duties and roles depend entirely on the employer, but the idea is to be given a workload that is suitable towards a new worker but still assigns a good amount of responsibility. Internships traditionally last a few months and are suitable for gaining contacts, building confidence and gauging an understanding of employment within an organisation or industry.
Qualifying for an internship
Seeing as internships are an introductory measure to the working world, an applicant will not necessarily require any prior work experience, although it would often be advantageous.
Companies running internships can require general experience to show a proven interest in the area, and a 2:1 degree or above may be required as a measure to filter out inappropriate applicants.
What interns need to know
An internship employee will need to know most of the same things a regular employee would, either at interview or on the start date, including:
- working hours
- performance monitoring measures
- notice period
- payment details
These details should be in a written contract, signed by the employer and countersigned by the intern, with then a third copy and signature for the external facilitator of the scheme, i.e. a university or institution, if there is one.
Pay for internships
Whether an intern employee is entitled to pay or not will depend on the duties assigned and the company or organisation. If the intern is performing as a worker, there are certain rights that are in place to prevent exploitation. Whilst a worker is entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage, if the work forms part of a placement through higher education, i.e a sandwich course, the company does not have to pay a wage, as the work is classed as pre-graduate training. Regardless of whether the position is paid or unpaid, most companies do however pay interns' and volunteers' expenses.
An intern's entitlement to benefits
The continuation of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is only permitted if the placement is less than 16 hours a week.
For graduates of 2009 that have been receiving JSA for six months or more, a ‘training allowance’ may be available. The allowance will be in return for internship training, whilst continuing a search for paid work. The intern must be prepared to leave upon receiving a job offer, and must regularly check in with officials to discuss training performance and demonstrate their job-seeking endeavours.
In common law, volunteers are not generally classed as 'employees' or 'workers' for the purposes of employment and law, so no more than justifiable expenses, subsistence and accommodation should be granted in exchange for their services. Volunteers are, however, entitled to many of the employment law rights offered to employees, with the exception of minimum wage.
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