Taxman probes firm’s 35hr weeks for no pay

Eugene MacDonald is critical of Casa Morada. Picture: Jon Savage
Eugene MacDonald is critical of Casa Morada. Picture: Jon Savage
Have your say

AN interior design studio has been reported to the taxman after trying to hire six interns to work 35-hour weeks for nothing.

Eva Sorrano faced an angry backlash after placing adverts online seeking unpaid workers at Casa Morada in Causewayside.

Successful applicants would have been required to complete a full working week for six months – with six positions available, it meant she was looking for more than 5000 unpaid hours.

According to activists, however, the adverts amounted to “soliciting slave labour” and breached laws for employing interns.

With the national minimum wage currently set at £6.31 an hour, the business would have stood to save almost £32,000 in unpaid wages.

More than 200 candidates applied for the positions, but Ms Sorrano has since withdrawn the roles and said she “never wants to hear the word ‘intern’ again”.

Artist Eugene MacDonald, 38, sparked the backlash on social media after spotting the advert and said the studio owner had been trying to “defraud” the taxman and exploit newcomers to the creative industries looking to gain experience.

He said: “As a creative person myself, I see no end of these types of adverts.

“But it’s just so unrealistic, especially for younger workers trying to crack the industry.

“When I go to the shops to buy food, I still have to pay, and the same goes for rent and the rest. I don’t see the workers in banks taking the same hit, so I don’t understand why creatives are targeted in this way.”

In recent months, the UK Government has started to crack down on the solicitation of unpaid work. Under current laws, anyone classed as a regular worker must be paid the national minimum wage unless they are carrying out an internship as part of a UK-accredited higher education course.

Ms Sorrano, who owns the Causewayside studio, said she was shocked by the negative response, and insisted newcomers to the industry would be the ones to suffer from the crackdown.

“Most employers wouldn’t dare come near a graduate that hadn’t obtained any real, proactive work experience,” she said.

“This is common practice within the creative sector. I didn’t write the rules – that’s just the way the industry works. But after this backlash, I never want to hear the word ‘intern’ again.

“And to be honest, a lot of smaller creative businesses in the city are going to be scared away from taking on interns, too, if this is the sort of response they get.”

Chris Hares, a campaigns manager with action group Intern Aware, believes it’s time for the industry to change its ways.

“If you’re expected to work full-time, have set responsibilities and are contributing value to the employer’s business, it’s highly likely that you have a right to at least minimum wage. In this case, there are a long list of duties and responsibilities for each position and so we have reported these adverts to HM Revenue and Customs for investigation.”