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#WorkTrialsOnTrial | Rights at work for students


Rights at work for students


As many start or head back to university and college, Stewart McDonald MP has produced a list of tips, info and advice to make sure students are aware of their rights at work.



The minimum you can be paid (national minimum wage) is the same for students as for anyone else. National minimum wage rates are:

  • for workers aged 21 to 24 – £7.38 per hour
  • for workers aged 18 to 20 – £5.90 per hour
  • for workers aged under 18 – £4.20 per hour
  • for workers aged 25 and over – £7.83 per hour*

These rates came into force in April 2018.

Working hours

work hours

The European Working Time Directive provides all workers with the following rights:

  • an interrupted in-work rest break of at least 20 minutes if the working day is longer than six hours
  • a limit of an average 48-hour working week (although you can agree with your employer to work longer hours – this agreement must be in writing and signed by you)
  • a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year pro rata – so 5.6 times your weekly working hours.

Equal rights

equal rights

Workers are also covered by equality legislation. Equality law applies to all organisations. Under the Equality Act 2010 it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation



University students are not exempt from tax; they pay tax and and national insurance just as other workers do. However, you will only be taxed for earnings above £11,850 (the personal tax allowance). If you earn less than this you will not need to pay income tax. If you pay too much tax you can claim a refund from HMRC here.

Student grants, student loans, housing benefits, and most scholarships and research awards are not taxed. Full- time students are also exempt from council tax.

Unpaid work

unpaid work

Whilst the Government says that all workers are entitled to the minimum wage – there is still a culture of unpaid internships and unpaid trials that persists.

If you have set hours, perform specific duties and contribute value to an organisation, you are legally considered a worker, regardless of your job title. And all workers are entitled to the minimum wage.

If you feel you have not received the National Minimum Wage when you should have been, or you’ve been underpaid, click here and report it to HMRC.

Additionally, you can get free, clear and confidential guidance about any kind of dispute or query that you have about the workplace by calling the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100.


I work part-time. Do I have the same rights as a full-time worker?

Students who work part-time are legally entitled to be treated the same as comparable full-time workers; that is, workers on the same type of contract with the same employer. This is a right you enjoy from day one of your employment.

Can international students work in the UK?

If your student immigration permission allows you to take employment, you can work up to 20 hours (in some cases, up to 10 hours) a week during term-time and full-time during the holidays and on work placements.

What is a zero-hours contract? Is it legal?

A zero hours contract is generally understood to be a contract between an employer and a worker where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, and the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered.

They are currently legal. Remember - zero hours workers have the same employment rights as regular workers, and they workers are entitled to annual leave, the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage and pay for work-related travel in the same way as regular workers.

I need to take leave from work. What rights do I have?

You are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks paid leave per year (which is 28 days if you work five days a week). Any employment contract should set out leave entitlements. If it doesn’t, then 5.6 weeks must be given (which can include public holidays).

You are entitled to statutory sick pay if you normally earn over £92.05 per week and have been ill for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days).

If you become pregnant and choose to become a parent, you will be entitled to 26 weeks paid maternity leave and 26 weeks unpaid leave regardless of how long you have worked at the company, provided you give you employer (15 weeks before the due date). To receive statutory maternity pay you must be earning over £116 per week and you have been working continuously for over 26 weeks by the time the baby is 15 weeks from being due. Fathers/ male partners can receive one to two weeks paid paternity leave, following the same conditions. You can also share your leave with your parent if you are both eligible for leave.

Do I have representation at work?

In the university you are represented by the students’ union; in the work place you are represented by trade unions. If you are a member of a trade union, they can support you if you are facing any problems with your employment. A list of trade unions can be found here.


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