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Unpaid work

Unpaid work in the UK

Some employers offer the chance to work without pay, for the opportunity to learn about their business and gain experience.These roles can be for short periods, a few days or a week or even up to a year.

The job roles vary, from minor positions e.g. making tea, shadowing a colleague, being the team's “dogsbody”, to roles with responsibility and an expected level of performance.

Employers offer these roles for a number of reasons, from charities who rely on volunteers to do everything from administration to “front-line” work, to large profit-making organisations that know they can advertise a year-long internship without pay and still expect excellent candidates to apply.

These roles are seen as a great opportunity, but there is growing concern with the large number of organisations offering unpaid jobs.

So where does Warwick stand on this?

The University of Warwick believes that it is wrong to expect work to be carried out without offering payment unless it is a genuine volunteering opportunity by a charity or not-for-profit organisation. This view is supported by the National Union of Students and online pressure groups e.g. Intern Aware.

This is our advertising policy relating to vacancies posted by organisations on my advantage. Please note specifically in this context:-

2 (d) We will NOT advertise the following:

  • In relation to work experience, placements and internships: unpaid work unless it meets the conditions for exemption from NMW requirements for volunteers.

If you self-source an unpaid short term work experience opportunity you can apply for the Warwick Work Experience Bursary for partial financial support.

So what’s the problem with working for free?

There’s a legal issue:

  • For-profit businesses that don’t pay their workers the National Minimum Wage are breaking the law.

…and two ethical issues:

  • Should businesses be taking advantage that the supply of applicants for internships and other jobs outweighs demand? What about Corporate Social Responsibility?
  • Some people can afford to work without pay. What about people who can’t afford to support themselves without a paid job – shouldn’t they have access to the same opportunities?
Share your testimonial

Got experience of unpaid placement? Want to tell your fellow students about it?

We’d love to hear from students who can share their thoughts and experiences of working without pay.

  • Was it valuable?
  • Did you find your status as an unpaid member of staff impacted on how you were treated?
  • Would you do it again?

To share your experience email:PlacementLearning at warwick dot ac dot uk

National Minimum Wage and the law