Last night, the BBC Panorama programme looked at how some bodies seek to get round the minimum wage legislation. It ended by referring to MPs who utilise unpaid interns and for some reason cited Hull students on placement at Westminster, using one Hull graduate to comment that he felt the students were being used unfairly by MPs. One cannot generalise from an N of 1 (not least in a situation where the number of students who have been on placement runs well into three figures), but that did not stop those responsible for the programme. The graduate wasn’t even commenting on the placement scheme that he undertook, but never mind, hearsay is always usable. The programme did at least quote the university pointing out that there is a world of difference between people who volunteer to work unpaid for MPs and those students on placement at Westminster who have institutional and financial support geared to the particular needs of the student. We also said a lot more, but none of that got used.
However, the most remarkable part of the programme lay in what was not covered. Those offering work experience on an unpaid basis are not confined to some MPs. Some leading organisations offer unpaid placements. Perhaps the most notable example is – the BBC. It offers a large number of unpaid work placements; some are for short periods, but that does not affect the principle.
One can only wonder why such an obvious example was ignored.