The government has been forced to remove job listings from its flagship youth jobs website, Graduate Talent Pool, after a campaigning website questioned their legality in light of the new national living wage (NLW) introduced earlier this month.
Graduate Fog, which aims to provide young people with careers advice, contacted the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills after seeing three advertised internships that appeared to offer salaries below the new NLW, which applies to workers over 25, of £7.20 per hour.
According to Graduate Fog, one advert, for a digital/content marketing internship with the London-based digital marketing agency Tamar, offered an hourly wage of £6.94, while two others, one for a graduate analyst internship and another for a graduate marketing and research internship with a recruitment agency called Inspiring Interns, stated a monthly pay of £1,100.
In an email exchange seen by BuzzFeed News, the department confirmed to the website that it had pulled down the job adverts. It said it was "re-evaluating any vacancies which might be affected by the Living Wage by taking down the adverts temporarily".
The UK now has four minimum-pay brackets that are tiered according to age, along with an apprentice wage and living wages for those inside and outside London. Tanya de Grunwald, the founder of Graduate Fog, said this variety of rates may have led to confusion on the government's part. The evidence for this is supported by the fact Inspiring Interns would later tell BuzzFeed News that its advert was minimum wage compliant.
In a statement posted on her website, she said: "Despite having nine months to prepare for the changes, the Graduate Talent Pool appears to be in a state of confusion about how to advertise roles for young people to ensure that all offer a fair and legal wage and that opportunities are open to all applicants.
"Why were they so caught out, when the plans were announced nine months ago? Why was it left to us to point out such an obvious problem with the way salaries are stated in their job adverts? The fact that nobody at the Graduate Talent Pool was 'on it' suggests a serious disconnect from the young people they are responsible for serving."
She added: "We've already questioned the ethics of a tiered minimum wage system based on age – why is it you can join the Army at 16 but you don't get the 'grown-up' national living wage until your 25th birthday? Now we've shown there are serious practical problems with it too. The government must clarify what is and is not acceptable when UK employers advertise roles likely to be taken by young workers."
A BIS spokesperson said: "The Graduate Talent Pool website is run externally on behalf of the department. As soon as we became aware of these adverts, they were taken down, and appropriate checks have now been put in place to ensure this does not happen again."
A spokesperson for Inspiring Interns told BuzzFeed News: "Inspiring Interns is dedicated to ensuring our clients are fully compliant with NMW & NLW. We inform all clients about the law and when in doubt forward the official government guidance via e-mail, in addition our contracts require clients to be fully compliant.
"We have looked into the role paying £11,000 per annum and can confirm this is fully compliant with NMW.
"Whilst we specialise in entry level positions, some of our top graduates have attained salaries of £35,000 upwards."
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alan White at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.