The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), the government agency responsible for enforcing the Fair Work legislation, has released an update on its approach to unpaid internships and other forms of work experience.It charts what the agency has been doing since commissioning a landmark report on the subject in 2013 from Adelaide Law School Professors Andrew Stewart and Rosemary Owens.
Where work experience is undertaken as part of a recognised education or training course, the Fair Work Act allows the student or trainee not to be paid. But where there is no formal link to education or training, the legal position is less clear. Organisations who use unpaid interns to do productive work are at risk of breaching the Act by failing to pay for that work. This is highlighted in the FWO update which, besides reporting on various educational initiatives, outlines a number of complaints from unpaid workers that have either resulted in court action or been resolved with an admission of liability.
Since completing their report, Professors Owens and Stewart have continued to undertake research and contribute to public discussion on the nature, prevalence and regulation of unpaid work experience.