Unicorn becomes latest arts company to shelve unpaid internships

Flagship children’s venue the Unicorn Theatre in London has become the latest arts organisation to suspend its internship programme after concerns were raised about the company’s failure to offer payment to participants.

Its recently-advertised communications assistant position was described as a “voluntary placement”. However, the post lasted three to six months and up to five days a week. It included duties such as researching and contacting groups for productions, assisting with idea generation, drafting and sending email newsletters, devising social media campaigns and helping with press nights and school visits.

The advert read: “The communications internship is a voluntary placement, but London travel expenses may be reimbursed up to a value of £200 per month. Whilst this is a flexible commitment, we would ask that candidates be available to commit for three to six months, for three to five days a week, starting in September 2012.”

The internship advert was removed from job websites after Arts Council England contacted the Unicorn Theatre about its guidelines on paying interns the national minimum wage.

The development comes after the Old Vic was forced to suspend its unpaid internship scheme last month, following discussions with ACE regarding the payment of interns. An ACE spokesman said: “The arts council is in conversation with the Unicorn Theatre, and other funded organisations, about unpaid internships. As outlined in our recent Internships in the Arts guidance, we believe that interns should be paid in line with national wage regulations, to ensure that opportunities in the arts are open to all.”

The guidelines state that if an intern fulfils ‘worker status’ through the activities they undertake in their contract, then they should be paid at least minimum wage.

In addition, the guidance says because interns are often expected to have a clear role with set objectives, the majority of them will be classified as having ‘worker status’.

A spokesman for the Unicorn Theatre said: “The Unicorn has a long-standing commitment to access and inclusion for young people in the arts and its internship scheme was designed in the same spirit, to give young people a start in the arts.

“Following further discussions, the theatre is now suspending this scheme in advance of the arts council’s new grant programme, to create paid opportunities for young people looking to start a career in the cultural sector.

“We had already consulted on ACE’s recommendations for interns. In our conversations with ACE it transpired that they are developing their planning around internships and we look forward to working with them on that over the coming months.”

ACE confirmed that it hopes to launch a grant programme this autumn that will create paid opportunities for interns.

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