Labour MP for Erith & Thamesmead

Teresa Pearce MP

A day’s work needs a day’s pay

Posted on August 01, 2010 by Teresa Pearce

The Unite Parliamentary Staff Branch is urging the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to create an Interns Fund to help MPs comply with National Minimum Wage (NMW) law and pay interns a Living Wage or London Living Wage. The campaign is backed by 65 MPs who have signed Early Day Motion 569 which calls for the establishment of the fund, including new MP for Erith and Thamesmead Teresa Pearce – a former Inland Revenue staffer and tax advisor.

IPSA’s original rules required all those engaged in Parliamentary work to have a contract of employment in order to comply with NMW law. Unfortunately this approach was not backed up by a dedicated fund and instead MPs’ staffing budgets were cut. Following consultation, IPSA has today backtracked and ruled that MPs will now be able to submit claims for incidental expenses of interns out of their reduced staffing budget if they have a signed agreement.

The union branch believes this is a backwards step for Parliament given that in practice many parliamentary interns are expected to work certain hours and perform certain tasks. This means they are defined as ‘workers’ and should be paid at least the NMW. Websites such as W4MP provide ample evidence of MPs from all political parties advertising for long term internships with set tasks and responsibilities. The union branch has also referred IPSA to the Reading Judgement in December 2009 against London Dreams Motion Pictures, which found that workers engaged on an expenses-only basis are entitled to payment at least in line with the NMW.

Erith and Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce said:

“House of Commons guidance provided to MPs in the past made it clear that interns who are obliged to perform certain activities in accordance with the employer’s instructions are likely to be considered ‘workers’ under the law and should be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.

“IPSA needs to get tough on unpaid parliamentary internships by adhering to this guidance and giving the new IPSA Compliance Officer the power to audit internship advertisements and placements for compliance with the law. But MPs also need the funds to pay interns and the current staffing limit is not adequate – it has already suffered a significant cut under IPSA. A dedicated Interns Fund that allowed MPs to pay interns a living wage would go a long way towards making Parliament a model place of employment.”

Max Freedman, Chair of the Unite Parliamentary Staff Branch, said:

“We know that parliamentary interns have been laxly monitored by the House authorities in past years and that many have been exploited. IPSA needs to recognise that there is a standard three-month unpaid internship model adopted by MPs that is considered a prerequisite to getting a paid job in Parliament and for which National Minimum Wage law should apply.

“An Interns Fund is necessary because at the moment only those who can afford to work for free for months on end have the opportunity to work in Parliament. IPSA says one of their principles is ‘not unduly deterring representation from all groups of society’. This should apply as much to Parliamentary interns as it does to MPs.”

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