Unpaid work – know your rights
The Australia Institute estimates the value of unpaid overtime worked by Australians over a year now adds up to as much as $110 billion. That’s an awful lot of hourly wages that are not being paid.
A study by the Grattan Institute of the growing wealth gap between generations has found that while older Australians are doing very well, adults under 35 are poorer than they were eight years ago. The huge growth in home prices is one of the biggest factors – older people tend to own their home and have some property investments, while younger people struggle to get into the property market.
But the growth in the amount of unpaid work is undoubtedly part of this growing imbalance, so it is important for workers to know their rights when they do unpaid work.
Employment law specialist Nathan Luke of Stacks Law Firm says there are two types of unpaid work.
If you are taken on as part of an educational or training course you are not entitled to payment.
If you are doing work experience or an internship it needs to be made clear from the start whether or not you are participating in work as an employee. If you are just watching and learning for a few weeks you can’t expect to be paid. But if you are kept on for months and produce work or research such as though you were an employee you could be entitled to receive the minimum wage.
If you are brought in for a trial period and do the work of an employee you should be paid. If you do a trial where you demonstrate your skills then so long as it doesn’t last too long it is a lawful unpaid trial. Once there is what’s called an “employment relationship” you should be paid.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman offers guidelines on the grounds for lawful unpaid work, but if you feel you have been exploited it would be wise seek legal advice from a specialist in employment law,” Mr Luke said.
“Even if unpaid work is lawful under the Fair Work Act there are other laws which could apply such as work health and safety, bullying in the workplace or discrimination.”
Unpaid internships are increasingly being exploited by employers who just want free labour. Some last for months, even years, as the boss dangles the prospect of a paid job that never materialises.
Some cases of exploited interns are now coming before the courts and employers can receive hefty fines on top of having to pay workers what they are owed.