DCMS reignites debate over payment of interns

Department pays all interns, but museums have different rules
Profile image for Gareth Harris
Gareth Harris
The secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Maria Miller, has reignited the debate over internships, and the controversial issue of whether interns should be paid the minimum wage.

“It is departmental policy to pay at least the national minimum wage to all employees, including interns,” said Miller in a Commons debate in February.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) explained: “The policy on paying interns is an internal one for the DCMS. We have no power to compel our arm’s-length bodies to do so. The question of whether the national museums and galleries should pay interns is a matter for them.”

Arts Council England and Creative & Cultural Skills published guidelines in 2011 stipulating that interns should be paid the minimum wage, currently £6.19/hour (or the London Living Wage of £8.55/hour) if they fall under the legal definition of “worker” (volunteers and student placements are exempt).

The national museums, however, still run internship programmes according to different rules.

A spokeswoman for the National Gallery said: “We occasionally provide internships on an unpaid basis. However, in accordance with our internship policy, it is our practice to provide these within the context of collaboration with institutes of higher education.”

She added that internships did not exceed a three-month period.

The British Museum does not classify volunteers and student placements as interns.

Interns, which are taken on for a minimum of six weeks and a maximum of one year, are paid the minimum wage and can receive expenses.

“An intern is an individual working to gain relevant professional experience in order to embark on a career,” said a spokeswoman.

The Natural History Museum has developed an internship programme that offers benefits such as role-related training and the reimbursement of travel and lunch expenses.

Maurice Davies, head of policy and communication at the Museums Association, said: “So many people want work experience in museums and galleries, it’s important that museums don’t inadvertently exploit them.

That will usually mean paying interns, or making sure they get incredibly good-quality training and development.”

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