Expecting jobseekers to work for extended periods for no pay
while doing internships or work experience is getting more and more
common. Some firms even insist applicants pay for the privilege of
getting unpaid internships.
One job ad for an accountancy firm recently emphasised 'how
hard it is to find a job for fresh graduates' and sought people
with a Bachelors or Masters degree to work on accounts and
day-to-day operations of the company.
The work was unpaid. Successful applicants were told they would
have to pay fees for "contract preparation",
administration and insurance. In return the company would provide
references for future job applications.
A fashion business advertised for interns to produce fashion
related content three times a week for the company blog, do photo
production, manage Instagram and Facebook for the company and bring
in fashion industry contacts. All of it unpaid.
Nathan Luke, employment law expert with Stacks Law Firm, says
even though these sort of exploitive demands from employers are
getting more common, the law on unpaid work is clear.
"There are two types of unpaid work – educational or
training courses, and then work experience or intern positions
where you are not participating in work as an employee," Mr
"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 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 it doesn't last too long
it could be a lawful unpaid trial. But once there is what's
called an "employment relationship" you should be
Legal action can be taken against employers who don't pay
the minimum wage and against those who illegally exploit workers by
keeping so-called fees for administration or insurance.
"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 to 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 that could apply such as work health
and safety, bullying in the workplace or discrimination."
Mr Luke said legal action against the exploitation of jobseekers
is gaining traction in the courts, and companies can be given hefty
fines as well as being forced to pay workers what they are
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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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