The widespread practice among employers of offering
unpaid work experience has been a sleeper, but it's one to
watch. In 2013, after a report found that unpaid work in Australia
existed on such a scale that warranted legal attention, the Fair
Work Ombudsman (FWO) announced it would crack down on offenders in
high risk industries (
see our update here). The FWO has now completed its first
prosecution of an employer involving unpaid work experience since
The employer, a media company, was approached by two journalism
students seeking work experience. The students completed short
periods of unpaid work experience and were subsequently kept on to
work as "volunteers". The employer made
"reimbursement-for-expenses" payments in respect of each
shift worked. No wages were paid.
Once the FWO intervened, the employer cooperated fully and made
backpayments to the students and another employee to the total tune
of roughly $50,000. However, that wasn't enough to prevent the
prosecution and the FWO launched proceedings because of the
"strong public interest" in deterring employers from
underpaying workers. The Federal Circuit Court imposed a $24,000
penalty for breaching the Fair Work Act 2009 (Act), including
minimum wage requirements and casual loadings.
Of course, the decision doesn't mean all interns or work
experience students must be paid. The Act provides for unpaid
"vocational placements". However, as noted by the Court,
"when a worker moves beyond merely learning and observing and
starts assisting with business outputs and productivity, workplace
laws dictate that the worker must be paid minimum employee
Basically, if they're doing real work which you would
otherwise have to pay someone to do, then you have to pay them.
It's the law; it's also only fair.
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quite proud of it really.
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