Labour Peer calls for enforcement of national minimum wage in Lords debate.

Lord Lea (from


Lord Lea of Crondall (Labour) calls on the government to enforce employment law and the national minimum wage, ending unpaid internships.


And you can write to Lord Lea thanking him for raising this issue. And also thank Lord Young of Norwood Green (Labour) for asking Baroness Wilcox (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Business, Innovation and Skills; Conservative): ‘Does the Minister agree that the problem with unpaid internships is that they discriminate against graduates from poorer households?’

The following is from

‘In recent months there seems to have been a very marked growth on the part of employers in businesses large and small; ranging from the theatre and broadcasting through to advertising and banking. All sorts of businesses, including politics perhaps, mainly in the London area, from the anecdotal evidence on websites, are in effect employing people while paying then nothing.

Why now? Absence of enforcement of the national minimum wage of £5.98 an hour for those aged 21 is coupled with a damaging lack of clarity in the rule and its interpretation. But even that has a very low, if not zero priority in the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), so employers increasingly think that they can employ young people for nothing, and there is nothing illegal about it. The facts are (but the government never publicised this) that it is illegal; it is an offence for which employers can and should be prosecuted.

Secondly, there is a huge bias in what one might call the social-class entry into the professions, including what one might call the ‘glamour end’ of the market; broadcasting and entertainment. Well-heeled parents can well afford to subsidise their offspring with their rent, travel and indeed nutriment.

This is very painful for other young people. Unfortunately many who don’t have rich parents and who are up to their necks in debt, are desperate to get a foot in the door anywhere they can, and do indeed work for nothing for long periods, with no protection at all. They find themselves living in dire poverty but are frightened to complain because it is quite easy for someone without a contract of employment to be dismissed.

So it is not just the minimum wage legislation per se, it is the read-across into all the legislation on employment contracts from unfair dismissal, continuity of contracts of employment, redundancy and all the rest of it. Very small businesses and very short-length contracts of course don’t always trigger these rights, but what is notable is their complete absence.

My own view is that this is reaching a point where enforcement is the issue and if necessary this whole area should be taken out of the hands of BIS and put in a new employment department, along with other urgent employment priorities where enforcement of employment legislation would at least be given more than a zero priority.

A final area where the priority seems to be zero is in data collection, whether it is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, where there seems to be no interest at all (the comment there seems to be ‘there is no data on this so we don’t know what we are looking for’), through to the Office of National Statistics. The fact is employers are benefiting from untaxed employment, and it looks like crocodile tears for people to say we don’t know the size of this problem because no-one has given us the data. Data has to be collected as best as one can, just like one collects data in other walks of life to do with illegal drinking or illegal anything, by the cooperation with the police and others doing sample surveys and some high-profile prosecutions.

I am aware that some business bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), has suggested something along the lines of a £2.50 apprentice-type wage as opposed to the national minimum wage of the order of £6.00 per hour. I am sceptical about this because in the present context, in lack of enforcement it seems to me that this would further encourage employers to drive a coach and horses through the minimum wage legislation.

Although certainly when there is a clear training arrangement with some idea that the employer has some ongoing responsibilities for the people they are training, I would not rule this out. But to suppose that this is central to what is going on at the present time, I am afraid is wishful thinking.

Finally, in answer to those who say, well the Labour government didn’t do much about this, apart from talking about guidance. The answer is that the employment crisis for the young has once again come to the centre of our radar screens one reason being precisely because all of the actions and signals given by the present government, with their instinct for non-regulation or scrapping regulation, is seen as a ‘dog whistle’ that paying people to work for nothing is now tantamount to government policy.

So I am advocating that between now and Christmas there should be a clear government statement, much clearer than I expect we will get from the House of Lords minister on November 30, stating that there will be prosecutions of people who are flagrantly breaking the law, even though this is not ideologically something that the government wants to pursue; surely enforcement of the law of the land cannot be subject to the ideological prejudices of the government of the day.’

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