A report by Interns Australia found that almost 90% of interns work either for free or below the minimum wage.
The research found that interns in Australia spend an average of 45 days working for no pay – which racks up $5,913 in lost pay at the national minimum wage.
Workplace law prohibits employers from withholding pay from interns, unless the internship earns the worker credit for a university or training course.
However, the report found that 60% of those who had worked for free were not gaining any course credit.
Many of the survey’s respondents also said that they had undertaken three or more placements.
According to the research, the arts, media, not-for-profit and legal sectors were the most likely to hire unpaid interns.
International students are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, according to the report, as students who complete a year of professional work can earn five points towards a permanent residency visa.
On Thursday, Sydney media company AIMG BQ was reported to be facing legal action from the Fair Work Ombudsman over allegedly underpaying interns $19,000
Key factors that make unpaid placements lawful include:
- The intern being required to help other employees fulfil their duties
- The intern carrying out tasks which are useful to the organisation within a training environment
According to Vince Rogers, partner at Ashurst, employers should never assume that interns require no remuneration or support.
“Employers must ensure that they are meeting their remuneration obligations,” he said. “There can be arrangements for interns to receive certain treatments under relevant awards or schemes. Any employer needs to check what applies to their industry.”
Rogers added that employers’ obligations to interns are not restricted to remuneration.
“Aspects of liability, such as workplace health and safety or exposure to harassment or inappropriate conduct in the workplace are also the responsibility of the employer,” he said.
Researchers have found that Australians are losing $6,000 in wages during internships by working for an average of nine weeks without pay.