The report, Interns in the voluntary sector – time to end exploitation, says more than a third of the top 50 charity employers in England and Wales – based on number of employees – do not pay interns. The report does not name the charities.
It calls on charities to stop "exploiting" unpaid interns and says there is a risk internships will be the preserve of the wealthy elite. Interns should be paid the minimum wage and entry-level jobs to the charity sector should be reintroduced, it says.
"Unpaid internships in the third sector breed elitism and only provide guaranteed access to jobs for those who can afford to work for free for anything from three to 12 months," the report says.
Unite, which has 60,000 members in the not-for-profit sector, said all charities should follow the example of "good" employers such as Clinks, which supports offenders and their families, the Methodist Church and the umbrella body the National Housing Federation, which all pay interns at least the minimum wage.
The report recommends that large national charities with turnovers of millions of pounds should pay interns the minimum wage and small charities with fewer than 10 staff should avoid recruiting unpaid interns and rely on volunteers instead.
The report also contains a snapshot survey of 206 student and graduate interns, which found that nearly two thirds thought interns should be paid the minimum wage.
"The UK is at risk of creating a society that discriminates against those who are unable to intern for free for long periods of time," said Sally Krosky, Unite’s national officer for the not-for-profit sector. "Structured, paid internships and training schemes are better for young people and are better value for employers, who will get higher quality and more motivated applicants."