The Fair Work Ombudsman has commissioned two University of Adelaide legal experts to help clarify the regulation of unpaid internships, work experience and trial work.
Labour law experts Professor Andrew Stewart and Professor Rosemary Owens from the University of Adelaide’s Law School will investigate these unpaid work arrangements to see whether they are lawful. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that a growing number of workers are offering, or being asked, to do unpaid internships or work experience,” says Professor Stewart.
“They often do this in order to get a foothold in the labour market. In most cases, there’s no problem when it’s a short placement – especially if it’s done as part of a recognised education or training program. However, there are instances where young workers have spent months – or even years – doing unpaid work that would ordinarily be undertaken by a regular employee.”
Professor Stewart says there is a pressing need to identify what is lawful and establish a better understanding of how these arrangements should be regulated.
“At what point does ‘experience’ become ‘exploitation’, and is it clear enough to businesses what they should be doing?”
The University’s two legal academics will prepare a report for the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman, the agency responsible for enforcing the Fair Work laws.
A key part of their work will be to consult with industry groups, unions, government and non-government bodies, universities and schools about their experiences and perspectives on the issue. According to Professor Owens, the issue of legal uncertainty regarding unpaid work is not unique to Australia, and so this project will also look at international best practice for dealing with these arrangements.
“Workers may be entitled not just to be paid for their work, but to receive other employment-related benefits such as superannuation and holiday pay,” Professor Owens says. “It’s important for everyone to be clear on when that is the case – and indeed when it should be the case.”