Has Tony Blair’s Office Not Been Paying Its Interns?

An investigation by a student employment website seems to show that the office of the man who spearheaded Britain's landmark minimum wage law may not be living up to the standards it sets.

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Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives before giving evidence before the Leveson Inquiry, May 2012.

Since stepping down as Prime Minister of the U.K. in 2007, Tony Blair has been busy: traveling the world, collecting speaking fees of nearly $650,000; acting as special advisor to a U.S. investment bank for a few million a year; and, as a student website investigation seems to indicate, not paying his interns a wage for working at his profit-making business.

On Wednesday the Guardian revealed that Blair’s office could be under investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs over information gathered by a graduate career website, Graduate Fog, about the office’s use of unpaid interns.

(MORE: Intern Nation, Why Free Has Become The New Paid)

Graduate Fog’s investigation showed that Blair’s office used interns — whom they labeled as volunteers — for free labor after one candidate, who had passed their tests and interviews, claimed he was passed over because he could only work for free for four full days a week rather than five.

The 22-year-old, who did not want to be named, spoke with the Guardian, saying:

“From what I can tell, they are trying to staff the office with that classic, rotate your interns; get the interns to do the office admin, don’t pay them a thing and, after three months, kick them out and get someone else in. That’s what it sounded like to me.”

The office he had applied to helps administrate Blair’s consulting and diplomacy interests, and is not granted charity status—which is required in the U.K. if employing unpaid interns. British guidelines require a person to be paid national minimum wage if they can be defined as a worker. The current rate for those aged over 21 is just under $10 an hour.

Given that it was in fact Tony Blair who steered through the minimum wage legislation—hailed by some analysts as the most successful government policy of the last three decades—the news that the former prime minister was not paying these workers attracted criticism.

(MORE: 7 Ways to Get the Most Out of an Internship)

The anonymous 22-year-old who was turned down for the internship said to the Guardian: “Through the minimum wage legislation (Blair) had given people, young people especially … a decent wage. But he’s not even providing it for his own business. It’s completely outrageous. I can’t think of anything more two-faced to be honest.”

Tanya de Grunwald of Graduate Fog also explained to the British paper that”too many employers have convinced themselves that experience, plus a few quid for a sandwich and the bus fare, is an acceptable form of payment – we just never expected one of those employers to be the man who introduced the minimum wage law.”

Since leaving office Blair has commanded six figure sums for his speeches and also receives a prime ministerial pension of nearly $113,000 a year, as well as a further public allowance worth $185,000.

Following on from pressure over the embarrassing revelation, Blair’s office has now issued a statement claiming that they will in fact now be paying interns who stay with them for more than three months. They declined to answer TIME’s questions on why they had this change of heart, but a spokesperson said:

“As we said in our statement, the vast majority of interns came to us at their request, unadvertised, for voluntary work. We have also always acted on legal advice in respect of any intern.”

(MOREMurdoch and Blair: Britain’s Former PM Testifies to Hacking Inquiry)

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AnnieYactor
AnnieYactor

British guidelines require a person to be paid national minimum wage if they can be defined as a worker.

Err, no, English Law (National Minimum Wage Act 1998) requires a person to be paid national minimum wage if they can be defined as a worker.