The government wrote last week to the Low Pay Commission (LPC) and asked it to look at the issue of internships and whether they should be paid, as part of the focus of its 2012 report.

Ministers also asked the Commission, which reviews the level of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) every year, to consider a recommendation to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).

The Board, which was set up in 1948, sets minimum wages and other terms and conditions such as holidays and sick pay for workers employed in agriculture in England and Wales.

LPC members will also look at what the government calls “the best way to give business greater clarity on future levels of the NMW, alongside considering if any recommendations could be introduced more promptly”.

The TUC welcomed the Commission’s new remit, particularly the focus on internships. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that: 'Many employers offering unpaid internships are breaking minimum wage law with impunity, and these arrangements exclude the majority of youngsters who don't have the contacts or financial backing to work for free for months at a time.

However, he also expressed concern about the abolition of the AWB, which would “inevitably lead to falling incomes in farming communities”.

The LPC will report to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills by the end of February 2012.

When the minimum wage was launched in 1999, the main rate was £3.60. It is now set at £5.93 per hour. On 7 April 2011 the government announced that the following NMW rates will come into force on 1 October 2011:

The adult rate will increase by 15p to £6.08 an hour
The rate for 18-20 year olds will increase by 6p to £4.98 an hour
The rate for 16-17 year olds will increase by 4p to £3.68 an hour
The rate for apprentices will increase by 10p to £2.60 an hour.

For a copy of the LPC’s 2011 report, go to: The Lowpay Commission website