Unpaid Internships: Millennials Speak Out As Expert Warns of Legal Risks

Unpaid internships are increasingly becoming the default way of beginning a professional career in Australia.

According to the largest survey so far, 60 per cent of people aged under 30 have done at least one, but when it comes to the status of interns, the law is unclear.unpaid internships - millennials share their stories

One of the distinctions between an employee and an intern, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman, is that if the work “would otherwise be done by an employee, or it’s work that the business or organisation has to do, it’s more likely the person is an employee”.

Up to half a million interns may have been in unlawful arrangements over the past five years, says Andrew Stewart, a professor of labour law at the University of Adelaide and co-author of the 2016 survey.

“We seem to be getting away from that idea about organisations investing in their workers and being prepared to put the time into paying them while they’re on the job,” he says.

“They say, ‘Well, if they’re not ready immediately to work for us then we’ll just make them an unpaid intern.'”

Most interns reported high satisfaction with their experiences, but there’s no conclusive evidence that internships lead to employment outcomes. Many interns end up with jobs related to their placing, but they might have done so anyway.

We asked four interns and former interns about their experiences.

Carolina Flora Diaz, 31, graphic designer

“They said there was a chance to work permanently with them, but this is what most employers say!”

Late last year Carolina Flora Diaz worked for two months for a small graphic design company, creating business cards, flyers, website design and other material. Carolina is from Argentina, and wanted Australian work experience.

The office was the company owner’s apartment. She and three paid colleagues worked in the lounge room.

“When I went to the job interview I showed them my portfolio,” she said.

After two months, she asked for pay if she was to continue, and the company owner refused — saying she was too slow and lacking in a key software skill.

Carolina left the internship and made a complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman, which is still investigating.

Her advice for prospective interns: study the Fair Work Ombudsman guidelines, and “clarify the terms of the internship before starting it”.

The University of Adelaide’s Professor Stewart says internships are much safer, legally speaking, when they’re an accredited part of a university or training course.

This article was originally published by ABC.net.au.

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