Are interns entitled to the national minimum wage?

Section 1 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 provides that workers are entitled to be paid the national minimum wage provided that they have reached school-leaving age and work, or ordinarily work, in the UK. Therefore, the key question is whether or not an intern meets these criteria; the main issue being whether or not the intern qualifies as a "worker". A worker is an individual who works under any contract whereby he or she "undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract whose status is not by virtue of the contract that of a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual" (s.54(3) of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998). Where, under an agreement with the organisation, the intern is obliged to work for it personally, the definition is likely to be satisfied and he or she will be entitled to the national minimum wage. However, if the intern is only observing or shadowing employees of the organisation, without undertaking any work him- or herself, he or she is unlikely to be a worker and will, therefore, not be entitled to the national minimum wage.

Section 44 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 exempts genuine "voluntary workers" from the right to receive the minimum wage. This is a specific exemption that is unlikely to cover most interns who work in commercial organisations. Under s.44, a voluntary worker is a worker employed by a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund-raising body or statutory body who is not entitled to, and does not receive, monetary payments or benefits in kind (with the exception of expenses or the benefit of reasonable accommodation or subsistence).