By Sophia Joyce
The increasing number of students who take on unpaid internships in the private sector outside of university have been strongly advised to know exactly what they’re signing up for.
A 2015 report by the Graduate Careers Australia says 69% of students found full-time work compared to four years ago when the figure was 72%.
Murdoch University’s Work Integrated Learning Project Manager David Rowbottom says employers are hiring students with experience and they get that by doing internships.
“Students who have no experience in their field and look for full-time work, in 2015 less than half got full-time work.
“That’s why students want to do an internship,” says Mr Rowbottom.
Colosoul Magazine’s CEO Tricia Ray says internships are a good way to gain industry experience but students need to be careful when choosing an internship.
“Sticking to an internship for the duration [of study] is very important and adds value to the student’s portfolio, and it’s important to know what the student would be doing before starting the internship.”
The Fair Work Act (2009) says depending on the nature of the work an intern may be entitled to the minimum wage and other employee entitlements.
Marketing student Emily Brand found a marketing internship in 2015 and was promised paid work at the end of the three to six month internship.
“I found this internship on Indeed and I thought it would give me so much work experience because it was a real company.
“I applied and got the job but I found out a few days before signing the contract that it was unlawful.
“They wanted me to do work as a content writer and do three full days a week in the office without pay,” says Ms Brand.
Mr Rowbottom says it is common for students to be involved in unlawful internships with for-profit companies.
“Companies don’t always know what the Fair Work Act says, there’s a number of companies that I have met who just assume that the workplace law is the same as America.
“They’re not deliberately being malicious to students by not paying them.”
Mr Rowbottom says there are ways to remedy the situation by getting paid or enrolling in university vacation programs.
“If a student is in a situation where they feel they are being exploited, and the company is not forthcoming and trying to fix it, there are channels where anybody can go to the Fair Work Ombudsman and get advice around the situation.
“Some cases have ended up in court and the company is fined and have to compensate the student for what they should have been paid.
“There are remedies in a hostile way or in a more gentle way,” he says.