The Catch-22 of Club 21

Claire Diamond

COVER PHOTO

Club 21, the University’s internship programme, has been criticised by the Students’ Representative Council (GUSRC) for not doing enough to prevent students being exploited when out on internships.

Although many students have offered glowing testimonies of the Club 21 scheme, GUSRC has raised concerns that some employers are taking advantage of students recruited through this programme after several students came forward to complain about their experiences.

Students have accused their employers of pressuring them to work extra hours. Although the majority of the jobs are 9 t0 5, often students are expected to work long outwith their normal hours – yet are still paid a standard daily rate.

Although Club 21 acknowledge on their website that “hours will vary depending on the nature and needs of the business”, before going on to mention that “it is possible but unlikely that you will need to work evenings or weekends”, it was stressed that students are not obliged to do the extra hours. However, many interns felt they did not have the choice to turn down the additional work.

Jess McGrellis, GUSRC President, expressed her problems with the scheme:  “The SRC have concerns with some internships offered by Club 21. We have heard of several cases where, due to the highly competitive job market, there are often pressures and expectations on students to work many hours in addition to those contracted hours, very often putting them below the minimum wage.

“The SRC would like to see Club 21 taking a more robust approach to securing the rights of students to the minimum wage by challenging employers when it appears that they are exploiting students through expressed or implied pressure to work considerable unpaid overtime.”

While the University advertises the internships, they do not vet the contracts that students are being signed up for. This means some interns are being paid a daily rate for set hours at minimum wage, then are expected to do unpaid overtime.

One student approached the Glasgow Guardian to discuss concerns about their internship: “My Club 21 placement was a good experience but there were a few times I felt like I was being exploited and made to compete with other interns.

“I was paid minimum wage but was always expected to turn up before 8.30am and was told I had to ‘make up time’ and work extra hours if I needed to leave at 5pm (my contracted hours were 9am – 5pm). Often I wasn’t out until after 7pm. Although technically I could have left at 5pm, I wouldn’t have lasted long if I had.

“I was promised a small pay rise because of the longer hours I was doing after working there for a few months, but never received it.  I felt I couldn’t bring it up as I didn’t want to be the one complaining in case it put my chances of the job at risk as I was competing against other interns for a graduate job. It appeared to me that I was being promised this so that I wouldn’t complain about having to work all the hours for free.

“I didn’t bring the pay rise up with Club 21 – I didn’t think there would be cause for complaint as the contract never promised a pay rise.  I didn’t think they would be able to do anything.

“I did mention some of these issues to a member of staff at Club 21 when I was applying for a different placement and told them how annoyed I was, but they didn’t seem to see any problem with it.”

When the Guardian approached Club 21 about these allegations, they stressed that little could be done unless a student raised a complaint against a specific employer, as the terms of employment are decided by the employer.

Contracts, it was explained, are outwith their jurisdiction, therefore if a student did not come forward to complain then Club 21 would have no grounds to approach an employer and challenge them about the student’s hours.  They also stressed that no students had complained to them directly – complaints had been made to the Students’ Representative Council.

The Club 21 website urged students to read the terms and conditions before signing up for a job, but assured students that “paid internships must offer equal to or more than the UK National Minimum Wage”.  However, students who are working extra unpaid hours are brought below this minimum threshold guaranteed by the scheme.

A source explained some of the problems students were facing, using one contract as an example: “The contract shows clearly that the intern is to be paid per day, not per hour, and the day rate is 7.5 hours at minimum wage. It’s a week’s notice contract, with no holiday pay – even three months would accrue one week’s time – with onus on tax and National Insurance on the intern.

“There’s masses of room for exploitation here, especially as often two interns are taken on for one job.  If the intern was sick or on holiday, they’ll get no pay, and if they work 8am – 7pm, they would still receive the 7.5 hours at minimum wage rate.”

Another student told of a similar Club 21 experience: “When I insisted I wouldn’t accept the job until I saw the terms and conditions, they weren’t happy I wouldn’t sign [the contract] right away. I was told they had other people who would take the position if I didn’t.

“The contract they sent through had a daily rate but they were expecting extra work when required with no overtime pay. I was also asked to give up all intellectual property rights to anything I did at the company, and for six months after I left.

“Since there were two interns, and the ‘chance’ of one job at the end, I knew that if I took it, I’d basically have to commit to working 10-12 hour days to ‘out-do’ the other intern, with the knowledge that there still might not be a job at the end.”

Club 21 have since, however, pledged to check with all students if they have been asked to work any more than contracted hours and, if so, will ensure they have been paid at least the legal minimum wage.

A spokesperson for Club 21 said: “Club 21 staff contact all students a minimum of three times during their placement to check on their progress and they know they can contact us at any time if they have a problem. We will ensure that students are asked about their working hours during their first week.

“All organisations in which we place students directly have to provide us with working hours and these are in the contract that the students sign with the company before they start the placement. We pride ourselves on the levels of support we offer students and employers and have many testimonials to this effect.”