ACE warns that relying too heavily on an unpaid workforce could jeopardise the chances of organisations achieving NPO status.
The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) will be introducing a paid internship scheme in the autumn, following allegations that the company is currently “exploiting the desperation of young people and undermining the responsibility of organisations to pay for labour”. A campaign to pay interns at the LSO has been spearheaded by pressure groups Future Interns, the Precarious Workers Brigade and Ragpickers, whose open letter to the LSO points out that full-time internships with set hours for roles that include stewarding and helping “to run the box office” fall under national minimum wage guidelines, as they would normally be paid positions. The letter continues: “Putting aside the moral and ethical issues of asking someone to work for you for free, you are breaking the law – fines for breaching minimum wage guidelines are £20,000 per employee. As well as this, any intern who has worked for you could potentially take you to court to be reimbursed what they are owed.” The issue came to a head last month when protesters staged a demonstration at London’s Barbican Centre. The LSO has since issued a statement saying that its “internship programme has been reviewed over the past year and it will be launching a paid graduate internship scheme in September”.
The LSO is one of Arts Council England’s (ACE) National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) and receives annual funding of £2.2m. Guidance on internships in the arts published by ACE and Creative and Cultural Skills states that arts organisations must pay individuals with ‘worker’ status at least the full national minimum wage for their age range. An ACE spokesperson told AP: “…in our guidance to organisations applying for National Portfolio or Major Partner museum funding, we strongly recommend that organisations pay interns and other workers fairly and within the legal guidelines. If an NPO was relying too heavily on an unpaid workforce this would be reflected in their business plans, which they submit on applying for NPO status. This over-reliance would suggest a lack of financial resilience and would put at risk their chances of retaining NPO status in future investment rounds.”