If you work in the arts you should get paid. Even if you volunteer you should get paid expenses so that working does not cost you anything.

Many people in the arts do not get paid for their work. Some artists are able to subsidise their unpaid work with money they earn in anohter job. Some opportunites do not offer payment when they should. Unpaid work in the arts is very common but means that many people cannot progress in their careers.

Artquest supports a-n’s Paying Artists and DACS A Fair Share for Artists campaigns. We are international partners with W.A.G.E.. We pay everyone who works for us a fee and offer extra access payments for people who need more support.

Arts opportunities are often called different things:

  • Internship
  • Work placement
  • Trainee
  • Volunteer
  • Voluntary worker
  • Work experience

This article is about whether you should get paid by law for the different types of work you do. The law is clear on who is a worker and what payment rights you have. The job title does not matter.

Remember that even if you are not required to a fee:

  • working for someone should not cost you anything.
  • it doesn’t mean your work is not worth anything.

If you work for no fee when you could claim one, remember that you are donating your fee to whoever you are working for. You are choosing to waive the fee for this work. You can still calculate what you should be paid and tell your employer how much your donation is worth.

Am I a worker?

The definition of a ‘worker’ is described in law. Workers should get paid at least the National Minimum Wage. Workers have other employment rights including:

The National Union of Students gives the following areas to think about to see if you are a worker. This is in Internships: Advice to students unions and UCU members (PDF). Think about:

  • Is there a contract? A contract might be:
    • written down on paper
    • agreed in person or over the telephone
    • an agreement to do things in an email, or in many emails
  • Do you have to work yourself? To be a worker you must have to do the work yourself. It is work that you do not delegate to anyone else.
  • Are there things you have to do and the employer has to do? For example is there a process to end the job, or to take time off?

Self employed people, working as self employed, are not counted as workers. It is not required to pay self employed people the National Minimum Wage. They do not have access to the employment rights listed above. If you are self employed you need to negotiate your working conditions in a contract.

Self employed people are still protected from discrimination under the Equality Act.

Even if you are not a legal ‘worker’ or self employed:

National Minimum Wage

Workers must get paid at least the National Minimum Wage. The National Minimum Wage is the lowest pay per hour that workers can get by law. It often increases in April. An employer has to pay this rate no matter the size of their business. Contracts for payments below the National Minimum Wage are not legal.  There are different rates of National Minimum Wage for different ages.

Employers must be able to prove that they are paying at least the National Minimum Wage. If Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC, the tax office) finds an employer hasn’t been paying the right rates, the worker must get paid back immediately. The employer might also get a fine.

The Living Wage

The Living Wage is a voluntary payment higher than the National Minimum Wage. The Living Wage rate is calculated as the lowest amount needed to pay someone enough to live on.

There are rates for the Living Wage inside and outside London.

The different names of work

Apprentice / apprenticeship

Apprenticeships are a formal government scheme of job training along with study. There are special pay rates for apprentices.

Apprentices work with staff to get experience while studying towards a recognised qualification. An apprenticeship in England is open to:

  • anyone over the age of 16 and
  • is eligible to work and
  • who is not in full-time education.

A university graduate can do an apprenticeship but they would cannot get funding. Their employer would have to pay training costs.

Intern / internship

There is no legal definition of an internship. It is a type of entry level job and should qualify for worker status. Read more information on internships.

The only organisations that can offer unpaid internships are:

  • Charities
  • Voluntary organisations
  • Associated fundraising bodies
  • Statutory bodies

Private companies must pay all workers and cannot legally host unpaid internships.

Trainee / Traineeship

A traineeship is a skills development programme that includes a work placement. It can last from 6 weeks up to 1 year, though most traineeships last for less than 6 months.

Sometimes an employer will call a job a traineeship even if it is not part of this official programme. The term ‘traineeship’ is also not defined in law.

Volunteer / volunteering

A volunteer is not classified as a worker. Volunteers do not have the right to get paid the National Minimum Wage. NCVO has more information on volunteering and what it means.

Volunteers can work for:

  • Charities
  • Voluntary organisations
  • Associated fund raising bodies
  • Statutory bodies

Volunteers do not have a contract with their employer. They are not required to work set hours and can end their voluntary work without giving notice. Some organisations have a written agreement to explain what they expect volunteers to do. Such an agreement cannot say what required because there are no requirements for volunteers.

An employer is not obliged to provide work for a volunteer. A volunteer is not obliged to complete any work set by an employer, too.

A volunteer might get money for costs related to their role such as:

  • food
  • travel
  • equipment.

They must not receive any payment above this, including rewards that are not money. If a volunteer gets other payments or benefits they might be a worker instead. This includes benefits like the promise of future paid work. Volunteers might still need a criminal record check when working with vulnerable people.

Voluntary worker

Voluntary workers are different from volunteers. Voluntary workers are legally defined.

Like a volunteer, voluntary workers can:

  • work for the same kinds of organisation as volunteers
  • only get paid expenses.

Unlike a volunteer, they are:

  • employed under the same terms as a worker
  • have a contract
  • have to personally perform work for the organisation.

Work experience

Work experience is time spent in a workplace learning about a job role, a company or a career sector. It is most often done through a school during years 10 and 11 (ages 14-16) during term-time. Work experience placements are short, often 1-2 weeks. They usually involve only job shadowing rather than work. Because of this people on work experience are not entitled to National Minimum Wage.

Work placement

A work placement is paid or unpaid work as part of a higher course of study. Work placements give people experience about their chosen field. A work placement is somethimes called a ‘sandwich’ or ‘industrial’ placements.

A student will continue their course while on a placement. The host organisation will review the student’s performance. Work placements might be arranged through a university or by the student. They can be full time or part time, and can last from fifty hours to a full academic year. People on work placements less than 12 months do not have to get paid the National Minimum Wage. Organisations can choose to pay placement students at or above the National Minimum Wage rate.