Interns – unpaid work shouldn’t be a rip-off
Young people working for free seem to be part of the furniture in just about every office nowadays. It’s especially the case for people trying to break into careers in the media, law, tourism, health services, government, marketing, fashion and entertainment industries.
The idea is that the young person gets valuable work experience they can add to their CV. They can check out the reality of their chosen dream career while they get coffee, run errands, stack papers and put shelves in order. They develop valuable contacts in the industry while they have a foot in the door.
Of course employers benefit too. Not only do they get free work, but they also get a chance to have a long look at the individual to see if they will fit the job when it comes up.
But all too often interns are being exploited. There are cases of interns working for free for months without being offered a paying job even if one does come up. Some employers expect interns to work long hours to prove their determination to succeed in their chosen career. Many employers expect young workers on the bottom rung of the career ladder to work many hours overtime every week for free to prove their devotion to the firm.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has received many complaints about this sort of exploitation and has begun an enquiry to see just how endemic it is in Australia.
There are two types of unpaid work.
If it is part of an educational or training course – called vocational placements – it is not entitled to payment.
If it is work experience or an internship, it needs to be made clear from the start whether or not they are participating in work as an employee.
If it’s for two weeks and only observational, you can’t expect to be paid.
But if you’ve been kept on for several months, produced work, done research, and generally worked as though you were an employee, you can be entitled to receive the minimum wage.
If you’ve been brought in for a trial period and do the work of an employee, then you should be paid.
But each case has to be examined on its merits and it would be wise to get legal advice from an employment law expert on your rights before taking any action.
Employers unsure of their position regarding interns should also get legal advice on their obligations. After all, it could damage a firm’s reputation if they are found to have exploited a young person.