Two NHS trusts have been accused of exploiting newly qualified nurses by paying them below the minimum wage.
The Nursing Standard journal said Durham and Darlington, and North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trusts were morally wrong to offer preceptorship contracts.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said some graduates were being paid as little as £2.60 an hour.
But both trusts said the scheme had been launched simply to help provide new nurses with vital work experience.
RCN official Glen Turp said: "We have talked to the two trusts and would hope that they would find the means to reward qualified nurses with the salary they deserve.
"This situation has arisen mainly because trusts are facing huge deficits and cutting jobs.
"We need a period of stability within the NHS if the need for nurses to work for below average earnings is to end."
According to the RCN, almost two-thirds of about 1,000 newly-qualified nurses will not find work in the North East and Cumbria.
Laura Robson, director of nursing at County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "It can be difficult if you are a newly-qualified nurse and cannot find a job.
"We have therefore designed a structured four-month programme, including mentoring, experience on the wards in a supernumerary capacity and a series of classroom-based study days.
"Seven nurses completed the programme in September. Three are now working on the trust's nurse bank and four have secured posts, two with this trust and two with other NHS trusts in the area."
During the preceptorship period, nurses receive a training allowance of £480 per month, she added.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust has been less successful with its scheme, but stood by its decision to offer preceptorships.
A spokesman said: "We saw this as a way of providing the extra experience graduate nurses need to gain employment.
"The places were to be supernumerary with the emphasis on development not on the person being a spare pair of hands for the trust.
"Two new graduates expressed an interest in the offer but ultimately did not need to pursue this as they were successful in securing employment."