LOOKING for an internship to gain experience and exposure before graduation? Not all internships are created equal. Ernest Lee investigates the legal aspects of internships.
An internship can present itself as a great opportunity for students to gain valuable work experience in the industry while still studying at university.
While it is important for students to equip themselves with relevant work experience to better prepare them for work after graduation, it is also important for them to be informed and well aware of their legal rights at work.
Many international students and even some local students have either little or no knowledge of their work rights when it comes to doing an internship and this makes them especially vulnerable to work exploitation.
Many work experience placements and internships can be unpaid as long as they meet the definition of a vocational placement under the Fair Work act.
In the occasion where an intern is unpaid, the company needs to ensure that the internship period is limited to a certain timeframe (generally around three months) and that he or she is not an employee of the company.
There are currently many grey areas surrounding the issue on what is considered as lawful.
More and more companies are taking advantage of this ambiguity by hiring interns to perform the duties of paid employees and making them work for longer hours.
By employing and exploiting interns, these companies can save a sizeable amount of money on employees’ wages and also making it extremely difficult for fresh graduates to find proper work.
While doing an internship may be a good learning experience for students, it is more important for them to protect themselves from exploitation. Students who undertake an “internship” that is not legal could potentially not be covered by workplace insurance, and as such are not protected if an accident happens while they are at work.
Students need to know the difference between what is legal and illegal pertaining to their workplace arrangement and also say no to exploitation when the occasion does arise.
Information can also be easily found online on Fair Work Ombudsman’s website regarding everything you need to know about working in Australia, including workplace laws on internships and work placements.
If you feel that you have been a victim of exploitation by an employer, you can get in touch with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has also recently established an Overseas Workers’ Team. A free interpreter service for those from non-English speaking backgrounds is available by calling 13 14 50 and information about workplace laws is translated into 27 different languages at www.fairwork.gov.au/languages.
Have you experienced workplace exploitation as a result of an internship, or know of someone who has? Share your story with us in the comments section below.