Status of Workers Bill [HL] – Second Reading | Lords debates

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this Second Reading. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, on his Private Member’s Bill and the way in which he introduced it. It is high time that clarity was brought to this area, and the Bill brings that clarity.

I shall focus on a particular category that I will be speaking on at a later stage of the Bill; I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, will welcome that. That is the situation for unpaid interns, those who are asked to give of their labour for zero pay, a pernicious practice that persists and, unfortunately, has been only exacerbated over the Covid crisis. Here are some of the statistics: 83% of college students say that they have had to undertake unpaid internships, and 52% of university students. Even more worrying, 62% of young people said that they have had to undertake unpaid internships for longer than four weeks, and a shocking 16% of young people said that they have undertaken unpaid internships for more than six months.

Social mobility is yet another casualty of the Covid pandemic. The statistics tell their own story. We are in the midst of a skills crisis, yet companies are still asking people to give of their labour for free. If the individual wants to bring a case, the onus is on them to bring that case. As well as supporting the Bill, I urge all noble Lords to get behind the hashtag #payinterns. It is not just a question of social mobility; we can do so much using all the powers of social media.

Wilberforce brought an end to and slammed the door on slavery in the 19th century. The national minimum wage came in in the 20th century. How can it be that, in 21st-century Britain, the fifth-largest economy on the planet, we still allow unpaid internships to persist? I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he believes that we should bring forward legislation to end unpaid internships, and whether he sees the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, as an opportunity to extend that possibility.

Unpaid internships, begone; underpaid workers, receive proper pay; underpaid employment, begone. This Bill brings clarity to an area urgently which has needed it for decades. I urge all Members to support it and give it swift speed through the Lords. It is not a question of party politics; it is a question of economic, social and psychological benefit. It ties in to the Covid build back; it ties in to the levelling-up agenda; in short, it is about making Britain work better for all.

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