We're sure you, like every other decent designer in
the country, have a continuous line of young ones willing to take
up an unpaid internship, just to get some of that very rare thing:
actual experience in the fashion industry. However, in the last
couple of years it seems every designer worth their ready-to-wear
has been sued for not paying their interns. The list is long and
illustrious, and includes Versace, Armani, Burberry, Ralph Lauren,
Fendi and Gucci.
Sure, these houses are all overseas, but the law is similar at
home. The Fair Work Act mandates that employers pay
employees a minimum wage, with hefty penalties attaching to
non-compliance. That's $54,000 for a corporation, or $10,800
for an individual (such as an HR Manager) involved in the
So what, you say. An unpaid intern is a volunteer not an
employee, right? Alas, it's not that simple.
The problem arises where the line between passive observer, and
active worker, starts to blur. The argument is that once the
"intern" is performing "work", which someone
would otherwise be paid to perform, they've tripped over the
line into employee status and should be paid.
There are some exceptions. A vocational placement, undertaken as
a requirement of an education or training course, is not
employment. So you're safe with your year 10 work experience
kid. Voluntary work for a not-for-profit is usually pretty safe
too. But beyond that, having someone in the office doing work for
free – even at their own request – is potentially
getting you into danger territory.
For what it's worth, we also think it's wrong to exploit
the desperation of others. Being a good corporate citizen isn't
just about complying with the law.
If you have been using unpaid labour, maybe take another look at
that; before the Fair Work Ombudsman does.
We do not disclaim anything about this article. We're
quite proud of it really.
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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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