The ruling was made in the Federal Court by Judge Tom Altobelli against AIMG BQ Pty Ltd, a company with links to the Ostar International Media Group that owns Chinese-language websites and publications for Australia’s Chinese community.
AIMG BQ admitted to underpaying two event co-ordinators between October 2013 and June 2014 to the amount of $18,767. One was a 24-year-old from China who spoke limited English, who worked 180 hours for no pay over the course of four months carrying out duties including administration, cleaning, editing and event organisation.
She was with the company as part of a so-called internship whilst studying at UTS. The court found it unlawful for the internship to be unpaid as she was carrying out productive tasks that were not related to her studies for a Masters in Event Management. After completing the internship, she was paid $50 per day ($6.56 per hour), a staggering $8,387 below the legal rate.
Judge Altobelli said a serious message was being sent to the company to prevent other businesses benefitting from employment relationships disguised as unpaid internships.
In welcoming the decision, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said, “We don't want to stifle genuine learning opportunities that help young people get a foot in the door, but we also don't want to see young people being treated unfairly through unlawful unpaid work schemes.”
A Sydney-based media company has been fined $272,850 for allegedly disguising employees as unpaid interns, following an investigation and legal action from the Fair Work Ombudsman.