The rise of the teenage intern

by Cameron Edmond04 Feb 2014
Employers in the US have always had a strong emphasis on internship programs for high-school and college-age students. With Australian students showing increased interest in interning, the FWO has  undertaken an investigation into the growing landscape of unpaid labour in Australia.

“Unpaid work - including unpaid internships - has become common place in Australian workplaces across a range of different industries,” a spokesperson from the FWO said.

So what should HR pros be aware of when it comes to offering internships?

While there are many legitimate work-based learning programs and vocational placements, there are a growing number of Australian businesses using unpaid work schemes as an alternative to hiring paid staff, with young people and migrant workers particularly vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

“For example, an unpaid internship for a marketing assistant required to do filing, mail-outs, attend trade events on behalf of the company and answer the phones, for seven to eight hours a day, five days a week, is probably a job you should be getting paid for,” the spokseperson told HCA.

While most states do not have a minimum age of working in Australia, there are restrictions surrounding the type of work they can perform. In addition, internships must adhere to certain regulations surrounding:
  • The arrangement should be to provide work experience, not to get the intern to assist with business outputs and productivity.
  • The longer a placement, the more likely they are shifting to employee status.
  •  Although the intern may be productive, they should not have expectations or requirements place on them.
  • The intern should get the main benefit from the placement, not the organisation. This is why internships are often observational.
  • In addition, if the program is entered into through university or a vocational training organisation program, it is more likely to be a legitimate internship.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman does not want to stifle genuine learning and development opportunities. However, the Agency is keeping an eye on internship arrangements that could be exploitative and industries where unpaid work has become an accepted practice,” the spokesperson added.


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