By Marcus Leach

The new national minimum wage (NMW) rates will come into effect as of October 1st 2011, as well as rules governing who is, and isn't, entitled to the minimum wage.

Mike Hill, chief executive of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), which runs the National Council for Work Experience (NCWE) commented following the launch of the new NMW guidelines.

“There is nothing new about work experience in its many guises, but the last year has seen unprecedented focus on the debate about paid/unpaid work experience," he said.

"The NCWE has been in the thick of it, arguing strongly that the presumption should be for payment of at least the NMW unless there are certain over-riding factors.

“Historically it has been difficult to classify when the NMW applies and this is what the new guidelines seek to address. This is welcome news, as by providing more clarity, there is less ambiguity and both the employer and the worker are better protected. Internships should not just be for the wealthy and so the guidelines also go some way to help create a fairer market, redressing the balance.

“However, for years some companies and business leaders have associated the term ‘work experience’ with free labour, and there is still some way to go to change current attitudes and practices when it comes to taking on interns, particularly in sectors such as media, politics and advertising.

“The new guidelines provide the first prescriptive direction on how the NMW should be applied and we now all have work to do in communicating them, ensuring a fair wage for a fair effort.

“Fundamentally, high quality work experience/internships should benefit employer and student/graduate roughly equally, and if the employer is not getting a benefit or boost to their business or organisation, then the placement is not high quality; and if it is properly set up, and the company is benefiting, then the student is adding value and should be rewarded.”

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