The Conservative party is advising its MPs and local associations on how to avoid paying the minimum wage, the BBC is reporting.
It takes its information from a document leaked to careers blog Graduate Fog, which deals with the issues involved in using interns and tries to help the party dodge the costs involved in employing them.
The leaflet recognises that there is no such thing as an 'intern' by law, and all the party's staff must be divided into volunteers and workers, with the latter entitled to receive the minimum wage.
Those running the party are clearly nervous that many of those who work without pay are in fact employees, and fear that any external scrutiny of its practices could result in negative publicity and court cases.
The document, titled 'Common Sense Guide 2014: Interns, Workers and the National Minimum Wage', shows the Tories expect hostile questioning on the issue.
It provides a "Suggested Template Reply" to questions, a "suggested 'draft line to take' if you feel a written response is required to a public query about the issue of recruiting interns".
The leaflet could be accused of promoting deception by providing a 'cut and paste' response to queries which takes no account of the specific circumstances of each worker or volunteer.
It also suggests ways of writing recruitment adverts for volunteers, softening the language to make them sound more help-based.
- Swap the phrase “You will be expected to…” for “The kind of activities it would be great to get some help with include…”
- Don’t mention ”work”, “worker”, “tasks” or “hours” – but instead ask applicants to offer their “help” with “campaigning administration”
- Use the words “volunteer” and “volunteering”
Tanya de Grunwald of Graduate Fog, which campaigns against intern exploitation, says:
"The document is a strange one. It is unclear what purpose it serves - that is open to interpretation.
"At best, it is a 'dummies' guide' for Tory MPs on how not to accidentally exploit their interns. At worst, it could be read as a 'pass notes' for anybody who wants to hire staff and not have to pay them.
"Interestingly, the reaction from the public on Twitter has been to interpret it as the latter rather than the former."
She also asks the question: "has the Conservative Party actually ended up advising [MPs] how to get around the law?"
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady believes it shows illegal intent:
"There has been growing cross-party support for a significant increase in the minimum wage. But it also has to be properly enforced.
"It brings parliament and the law into disrepute when MPs of any party seek to get round the minimum wage.
"It is disappointing to find frankly hypocritical advice from a party other than 'You must pay the minimum wage to everyone working for you'."