Edinburgh business advertises 5,460 hours of unpaid work

Photo – Calum Murray (CP Collective Photography)

Casa Morada seeks six unpaid, full-time, six-month interns; insults applicant and university graduates in provocative emails

An Edinburgh-based interior design  business has been heavily criticised this week after advertising six unpaid, six-month-long ‘work experience internships’ on the job posting website Gumtree.

Casa Morada, which is based on Causewayside in Newington, Edinburgh, posted six jobs to the website in late August.

The Student reported the job advertisements to Intern Aware – the United Kingdom national campaign for fair internships – who acknowledged their potential illegality.

Each job required approximately 35 hours work per week, and lasted for six months, meaning the business was essentially advertising 5460 hours of unpaid work.

If these jobs were paid at the national minimum wage of £6.31 for over 21-year-olds, the work would be worth more than £34,000.

The roles advertised included that of a CAD Technician, an Office Admin Assistant, and a Graphic Designer.

Eugene MacDonald, an Edinburgh-based artist, wrote to Casa Morada last week, and asked why the business expected people to work for nothing.

He received a reply from Eva Serrano, the founder of Casa Morada, which stated: “I fully expect you to proof [sic] to me that you can actually be an asset to my business before I invest seriously in you with a full time contract.”

Serrano added: “I deliberately place UNPAID intern positions precisely to sort out the mediocre (you) who will never apply, from the formidable. You will never go far with your present mindset. Rest assured of that. 150 CVs now in, from as far as London, and counting.”

In an interview with The Student, MacDonald said that although he was initially displeased at seeing Casa Morada’s adverts, he was hugely offended by the email response he received, which he called “eye wateringly rude.”

Under UK employment law, people who work set hours, do set tasks and contribute value to an organisation are ‘workers’ and are entitled to the minimum wage.

Several of the jobs posted by Casa Morada included set working hours, and all of them included set jobs, outlining tasks that the ‘work experience intern’ would be expected to fulfil.

Speaking to The Student, Jo Swinson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment said: “Far too many young people have been exploited on long-term unpaid internships. Anyone who is a worker is entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage, including if they are an intern.”

Chris Hares, the Campaigner Manager at Intern Aware, echoed Swinson’s comments, saying: “What is being asked for here is simply unpaid work and it could possibly be illegal – where an intern is doing real work they’re entitled to at least the minimum wage.

“Smart employers know that unpaid internships aren’t just wrong and illegal, they’re also bad for business. Paying interns allows employers to attract the best people – and not simply the small minority who can afford to work without pay.”

In an email to The Student, Serrano defended her employment practices  and rejected the suggestion that they were illegal and immoral. She said, “We don’t believe that working 35 hours per week  does in any form disadvantage students from poorer backgrounds because we all have universal access to 168 hours in every week of the year.

“The question here is how badly do you want to get into the highly competitive creative industry. Some will be prepared to make the personal sacrifice of holding two jobs, one paid, one unpaid, during six months to obtain valuable and priceless experience, increasing their chances of future employability, while others simply won’t bother.”

Serrano added: “A university degree is meaningless nowadays. Any average person with moderate IQ out there can get one.

“A recent graduate on an internship is an “intern” i.e. someone with limited capacity to make a serious and immediate contribution from the start and [is] largely “clueless” as to the challenges of surviving in a competitive environment.”

Update 1: Intern Aware have reported Casa Morada to HMRC for investigation [09/09/2014].

Update 2: Casa Morada have withdrawn all ‘work experience internship opportunities’ [10/09/2014].

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