‘We may even pay all our interns’ says businessman who signed letter backing Labour’s crackdown on zero-hours contracts

Signatory of letter accused of hypocrisy comes out fighting but ends up in meltdown as he tries to defend unpaid internships

Labour’s attempt to hit back at the 103 business leaders who signed a letter supporting the Conservative party has not worked out too well.

Last night The Independent revealed that one of the signatories of Labour’s letter was signed by Wayne Hemingway, a designer who advertised for unpaid internships, a practice that Mr Miliband has pledged to clamp down on if he becomes Prime Minister. 

Today he came out fighting but his interview on BBC News turned into a car-crash melt-down as he defended his use of unpaid interns and even had the cheek to say: “In the future, we may even pay all our interns."

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Designer Wayne Hemingway tried to defend himself this morning (BBC News)

His company – Hemingway Design – advertised for a 20-hour-a-week internship for “expenses only”, while a project his company worked on to renovate Dreamland in Margate employed workers on zero-hours contracts.

Asked to explain why he refused to pay interns but backed Mr Miliband, who has described unpaid internships as an “injustice” that are “exploiting people” and a practice he wants to set limits on, Mr Hemingway said: “We have changed, so what? We realised it was wrong and we changed two years ago.”

He then went on to admit he still uses interns but rather than paying them a wage, he just pays them expenses.

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Wayne Hemingway was among the signatories of the letter backing Labour's crack-down on zero-hours contracts

He said: “Yes, an internship, we get colleges wanting to send students as part of their degree, but now we are paying for travel, food, we are paying for various things, and, in the future, we may even pay all our interns,” he said.

Watch the meltdown:

The letter published by Labour – which was also sent to the Guardian – was signed by a mix of business chiefs, celebrities and workers on zero-hours contracts.

It condemns the Government’s failure to halt the rise of zero-hours contracts as "a symbol of the failure of this Government's economic plan" and claim they have fuelled a "low wage, low skill economy that is letting down working people".

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Nearly 90 per cent of Sports Direct’s staff are on zero-hours contracts (PA)

The signatories claim only a Labour government will "put working people first".

The letter was organised in retaliation against the 103 business leaders who wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph warning that a change of government would "threaten jobs and deter investment".

Analysis by The Independent later revealed that one in five of the signatories of the letter were given honours by David Cameron in the last few years, while one third have donated money to the Conservative party.

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Labour has dedicated much of his campaign so far on zero-hours contracts (Getty)

Labour claimed their letter was proof that it "commands support from all walks of life – because Britain, and British business, succeeds when working people succeed".

It came as Mr Miliband dedicated Wednesday to campaigning against zero-hours contracts, with Mr Miliband describing them as an "epidemic" and a practice that was "undermining family life".

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Former BBC chairman Sir Michael Lyons signed the letter backing Labour (PA)

The Labour leader announced that the first Queen’s Speech of a Labour government would include a Bill to give workers on zero hours contracts a legal right to a regular contract if they have worked without guaranteed hours for 12 weeks. Previously, Labour’s policy was to allow such workers a normal contract after 12 months.

But it is clear Mr Miliband also wants to take action against unpaid internships and earlier this year he spoke of the need to stop companies abusing the use of them.

“I think there’s a kind of place where work experience ends – and unpaid internships that are just exploiting people begin,” he said in February.

“And I think we’ve got to look at having some limits on these unpaid internships. Because I think – for me the injustice is you can only do it if you afford it and you’re giving a foot on the ladder to one group of people but not another group of people.”

 

The vast bulk of the 100 signatories of the letter published last night are workers on zero-hours contracts and in a move designed to show it is the party for "working people", as opposed to big business, the letter is signed by firefighters, hospital workers, receptionists, shelf-stackers and restaurant workers.

Business leaders and celebrities also signed the letter, including former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan, advertising guru Trevor Beattie and former BBC chairman Sir Michael Lyons, the author of Labour's review into housing.

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