MMU Careers & Employability Service is regularly contacted by organisations who are offering unpaid work experience opportunities. In most cases, these opportunities offer students the chance to gain a valuable insight into a career which they are considering entering after graduating and add valuable development to an individual student’s CV (and hence a student’s employability profile).
Furthermore, many graduate employers expect students to have undertaken relevant work experience in order to demonstrate a genuine interest in & commitment to their chosen career path.
However, merely labelling an opportunity as ‘work experience’, ‘voluntary work’ or ‘internship’, or any other term, will not exempt an organisation from paying a student the NMW. The actual titling is irrelevant. What matters is the nature of the relationship between the student & the organisation.
Where a student is required to perform certain tasks which may be defined as ‘work’, or where there are other terms & conditions e.g. that a student is required to attend between certain hours, e.g. 9 am-5 pm, then a student will be defined as a ‘worker.’ NB. An employer can make reasonable requests e.g. student attendance during normal business hours but non-compliance cannot lead to a penalty on the student.
Students who are classed as ‘volunteers’ (rather than ‘workers’) may undertake work experience on an unpaid basis. A volunteer does not have any form of contract of employment or contract to perform work or services (express or implied) and are not covered by the Act.
The nature of the relationship between the student & the organisation is of a more ‘casual’ basis; for example, the student may negotiate to attend at the organisation’s premises between certain hours, so as to fit in with study hours or other commitments. The student may ‘try their hand’ at doing work for the employer, so as to gain genuine first-hand experience of their chosen career path, but there is not a requirement for the work to be of a certain standard and the organisation would not rely upon the student’s work (although they are entitled to use it if it is of the appropriate standard and not have the student defined as a ‘worker’.
Another definition might be that the student ‘makes no difference’ to the organisation, the organisation would function effectively and work will be completed, whether or not the student attends.
Students may also be ‘voluntary workers’. These are defined by section 44 of the Act (1998) as a class of workers who are exempt from being paid the NMW. They are working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fundraising body or statutory body which is exempt from the requirement to pay all its workers the NMW (although in reality most such organisations will employ a mix of voluntary & paid workers).
Voluntary workers receive no monetary payment or benefit in kind, other than reimbursement for expenses incurred, subsistence and/or accommodation as is reasonable in the circumstances of the employment, and any training necessary to carry out the work.
University students are adults and MMU Careers & Employability Service does not act in loco parentis. Many students are willing to undertake unpaid work experience opportunities and where a student may initially be a ‘volunteer’, they may negotiate to continue working for the organisation on an unpaid basis and thus become a ‘worker’.
This is a matter for the student & the organisation and MMU Careers & Employability Services cannot be expected to control, or attempt to control, these situations and the relationship between a student and an organisation.
However, it is appropriate for MMU Careers & Employability Service to give general information to both relevant organisations and students as to our policy with regards to advertising unpaid work experience opportunities. Employers should note that any guidance MMU Careers & Employability Service gives is general in nature and is not to be treated as specific advice.
Employers should ensure that they make their own investigations or get independent professional advice to understand their own position. Organisations or students seeking advice should go to the Direct.gov website and the Pay and Work Rights helpline (Tel. 0800 121 4042). The helpline is open from 8am – 8pm (Monday to Friday) and 9am – 1pm (Saturday).
In the current climate, many organisations are offering unpaid work experience opportunities which might fit the definition of ‘volunteer’ and which might still be deemed to be unreasonable or exploitative.
Although not covered by the Act, MMU Careers & Employability Service feels it is reasonable to give guidance to students that they should not volunteer on an unpaid basis for a lengthy period of time e.g. a period of time exceeding 1 month. Ultimately of course it is the student’s decision.
MMU Careers & Employability Service will advertise unpaid work experience opportunities where it is reasonable to assume that the relationship that the student has with the relevant organisation is one of a ‘volunteer.’ Where the student is likely to attend the organisation’s premises, or otherwise assist the organisation, on a ‘full-time basis’ i.e. 5 days per week, then these opportunities should not exceed 1 month in duration.
Where the student is likely to attend the organisation’s premises, or otherwise assist the organisation, on a more casual basis, e.g. 1-2 days per week to fit around study commitments, then the actual duration of the work experience opportunity may be longer than 1 month in duration.
In these circumstances, members of MMU Careers & Employability Service will give guidance to both students & the relevant organisations that where a student has volunteered on a ‘full-time basis’ exceeding 1 month, the student should then receive a proper market rate of pay for a new entrant to the relevant industry or profession, and that where this is not feasible or realistic, they should receive at least the NMW.
Where it is reasonable that the relationship that the student has with the organisation is likely to be, or become, one of a ‘worker’ then members of MMU Careers & Employability Service will give guidance to both students & the relevant organisation that the student should receive a proper market rate of pay for a new entrant to the relevant industry or profession, and that where this is not feasible or realistic, they should receive at least the NMW.