The decision arises from a case brought by Nicola Vetta, a former art department assistant, against London Dreams Motion Pictures Ltd. BECTU supported the case and welcomed the judgement as an important milestone in efforts to rid the industry of exploitative employers who deny newcomers their lawful right to be paid for the work they do. London Dreams Motion Pictures Ltd was ordered to pay Ms Vetta a sum in excess of £2000.

The decision emphasises that creative industry employers are not excluded from obligations under the national minimum wage regulations. This ruling is likely to impact on the visual arts world, where internships and volunteering have become the norm, not only for new graduates but more generally for arts professionals and artists seeking to develop their careers. A survey of visual arts organisations published by the Arts Council in 2006 revealed that: “for every three employees in the [visual arts] sector, two unpaid workers and one freelancer are also employed”.

This news will be welcomed by groups including Interns Anonymous set up by two unemployed graduates doing internships themselves, whose website features advice and posts from interns and signposting to relevant resources including FAQs from the Department of Skills and Business.

In launching their Counter-Internship-Guide Carrotworkers Collective said they were concerned that “rather than providing opportunities for young people, unpaid and often long term work experience is precisely one of the mechanisms for the erosion of decent working conditions (and therefore a decent life) for everyone.” The guide that is under development for the cultural and creative sector will be a collaboratively authored and open production: made by interns, students and cultural workers from theUK, but also in collaboration with groups from other European countries.

SkillSet (the Sector Skills Council for the Creative Media) has published a Code of Practice for Graduate Internships, working with Arts Council England and other training bodies, including Creative & Cultural Skills.

This recommends that internships and placement opportunities should be advertised and recruited equitably. It recommends that work experience placements, in which a student is essentially observing and assisting, but not carrying out useful work, should not be more than a month long. It suggests that people undertaking internships, which typically last longer and require the intern to perform useful work for the organisation, should be paid at least the minimum wage.

Find more online guidance on internships from Arts Council England, Creative Choices, Artquest, Museums Association and NCVO.

First published: December 2009 October 2013