I'm working with an educational charity for Autistic Spectrum Disorder young people aged 18 - 25. They receive all the funding from a governement agency and do not charge the young people to be here.
As part of the education curriculum work experience is offered in the various social enterprise functions that the college runs.
Because of the nature of the young people they are unable to be left alone doing any work in the enterprises but are always supervised with a proficient staff member - However they do do actual work, low level stuff like stacking boxes, moving things around, cleaning tables etc.
If a student works in one of these enterprises they are 'paid' £3 per hour - less than the minimum wage, they are not treated as employees and no returns to HMRC are done for them. To put this in context the maximum any one student might earn from this would be around £250 per year. It is highly unlikely that they would have a 'proper' job elsewhere given their circumstances - although not impossible by any means - so they would probably never break any tax thresholds.
The issue I am grappling with is:
Is this real employment or is it some kind of sheltered work enabling work skills to be learned ready for the real world - i.e it's all part of their education.
if the latter - should we be paying them at all? is it a problem that we do?
In terms of employment law it seems to me that there is no mutuality of obligation in that if work is offered to the young person and they don't turn up, or they wandered off in the middle of the day, then there would be no reprocussions - the other proficient worker in the shop would manage without them - they would not be sacked, or disciplined it would just be a learning point for them to consider that they have had a negative impact on something as a result of their actions.
Therefore they are not employees in terms of full employment rights but that would just makes them casual labourers still subject to minimum wage.
The whole purpose for offering the 'work' is for the students benefit - to gain experience of interfacing with the public and to see work as a positive thing. It isn't to actually get any work out of them as such - even though work can and does get done, but if it didn't it would be picked up by someone else on site.
So should it be minumum wage or nothing at all......
at present we are somewhere in the middle - a middle that I don't think exists.