Students doing degrees with no inbuilt work placements will often be on the lookout for additional ‘real world’ experience related to their degree. Many are willing to work for free in order to build up their skills, beef up their resume and secure good referees.
If you leave this to your final semester, things can get desperate and you may say yes to as many hours as you can get. And that’s where things can get tricky.
Working for no pay
Gaining experience is a great thing, and many work placements or internships don’t involve payment, however it’s important to be able to distinguish the point at which you’ve stopped gaining experience and begun completing work that should rightfully be paid for.
Exploitation isn’t uncommon. Some companies have been known to advertise jobs as mere ‘work experience opportunities’ in order to convince young people to complete unpaid work.
While unpaid work internships and placements are legal, there’s a fine line between legal unpaid work and a violation of the Fair Work Act. Fair Work acts for everyone – including international students.
Know your rights
If you’re not sure whether you’re being treated fairly or not, here’s a quick checklist to help you distinguish your current ‘work experience’ situation.
- Are you learning? An internship or placement should provide you with work experience. This means you should be gaining experience and being supervised by a higher-level or time served professional. If you’re not gaining experience, then you’re simply working. And, you should be paid for that.
- How long have you been completing unpaid work? At Curtin, we believe that any ‘work experience’ which exceeds 112.5 hours, equivalent to three weeks’ worth of full-time work, should be paid. This is because the experience gained during this period should provide students with the sufficient skills in order to complete tasks that are of the paid work standard.
- Is this unpaid work related to course credit? Tertiary education institutions often offer students with work placements or internship opportunities as part of their units or programs. In this case, unpaid work is completely legal – as long as this experience is in accordance with the relevant program.
- What is your work relationship status? Are you an employee? If you’re no longer shadowing an employee and instead are left alone to independently complete the tasks of a regular paid employee, then you should be paid accordingly.
Never be afraid to arrange to speak to your supervisor at work if you’re unsure about your current workplace relationship or treatment.
If you believe you’re being exploited in the workplace, reach out to Fair Work Ombudsman.