· Features

Hot topic: Unpaid trial shifts

MPs recently proposed banning unpaid trial shifts, after unions received complaints of people working eight-hour shifts without pay

Unpaid internships are similarly divisive, with some warning that they damage social mobility but others claiming they are the only way to gain experience in competitive fields. So is it ever ethical – or valuable – to ask people to work for free? Or is it time to end unpaid work?

Lee Elliot-Major, CEO of the Sutton Trust, says:

"No-one should have to work for free to get ahead in life. Anything that constitutes ‘work’ should be paid – an eight-hour trial shift without pay may deter those who cannot afford to work for free. Failing to offer a fair wage for trial shifts and internships is damaging to social mobility.

"While short-term work experience such as shadowing can be invaluable for young people to make informed career decisions, lengthy internships are now often seen as a job requirement, demanding set hours and responsibilities often without pay. With unpaid interns facing living costs of more than £1,000 a month, all but the most advantaged are locked out of these vital opportunities.

"If unpaid work continues to be a requirement to accessing careers we risk shutting out many less-advantaged young people. It is time to put a stop to unpaid work and remove this barrier to social mobility."

Kerry Christie, chief people officer at Standard Life Aberdeen, says:

"We believe in inclusive employment and that means paying everyone a living wage. Unpaid work isn’t just unfair, it’s counterproductive. When we recruit talent into our organisation we want to attract the best people and be known as a great place to work. Not somewhere only those who can afford to work for free will apply. It’s about enabling social mobility, and that’s why we pay everyone at least the living wage, including young people who join us for an internship.

"We recognise it can be easier for large organisations like ours. But paying a living wage should be the way forward. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s good for business. Research confirms it opens up your organisation to diverse talent and helps you retain, reward and motivate your people, whether you’re a FTSE 100 firm or a small charity. It’s also why we work hard to support other employers to pay a living wage too, through our supply chain and as a Living Wage-Friendly Funder."

Check back tomorrow for part two of this Hot Topic