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The murky side of unpaid internships

September 11, 2018 by Chris Ruffler

The murky side of unpaid internships

In an era of minimum wages, anti-discrimination laws and workplace rights, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the likelihood of finding yourself in a job where your manager is an Ebenezer Scrooge-like caricature, making you work long hours for little pay, are slim.

Luckily, in Australia there’s a raft of employment legislation to look out for us. The work of organisations such as the Fair Work Ombudsman and industry trade unions have put more power into the hands of individuals. Yet there remains a culture in which some employers will seek to gain a competitive advantage of any kind, even at their employees’ expense.

Unfortunately for students and those taking their first steps towards their desired careers, you may be among the most at risk from employer exploitation.

Internships, work experience and placements
The rise of the ‘internship culture’ in Australia has been well documented recently and its negative impacts, in particular, have been widely reported in the media. There are too many employers advertising, and in many cases quickly filling, unpaid (or underpaid and over worked) ‘internship opportunities’. These internships often involve increasingly desperate students and new grads working long hours with vague promises of riches and ‘the career you really want’ if you’re prepared to stick it out.

Curtin Careers, Employment & Leadership recently became aware of a Perth employer advertising a seemingly harmless engineering work experience opportunity, but there was a major catch – the successful candidate was expected to fork out in excess of $2000 for the ‘privilege’ of being there. This is simply unacceptable and it was immediately acted upon by our Employer Engagement team.

Despite the negative stories, there are many employers that genuinely do look to ‘give back’ to their industries by offering work experience placements that are fully compliant with relevant legislation. These employers ensure that you, the individual, are getting the most benefit from the experience.

Work experience can be hugely valuable to you when it’s done correctly.

Don’t become the next statistic
If you ever find yourself in a placement or internship that isn’t part of your studies where you’re thinking “I really should be getting paid for this”, you might want to check your role’s compliance with the Fair Work Act before continuing. You can also learn more about your entitlements by completing our online Workplace Rights and Responsibilities module via the Curtin Challenge platform.

All Curtin students are encouraged to contact us immediately if you’ve had a bad experience with a placement, particularly if it was an opportunity you’d seen advertised on Curtin UniHub or elsewhere on campus. Alternatively, anyone can report dubious employers anonymously straight to the Fair Work Ombudsman.


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