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
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
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
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
Australian employees receive certain entitlements (such as annual leave and superannuation) where contractors do not.
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