The Nature and Prevalence of Unlawful Unpaid Work Experience in Australia
(2018) 31 Australian Journal of Labour Law
Posted: 1 Feb 2019 Last revised: 5 Feb 2019
Date Written: 2018
Under Australian law, unpaid work experience (UWE) will usually be unlawful if it is undertaken as part of an employment arrangement, since employees are generally entitled to be paid at the minimum rate set by an award or minimum wage order. There have been various legal challenges to UWE in the Australian context, which highlight exploitative organisational practices. Yet there has been very little empirical evidence of the extent of, or patterns associated with, unlawful UWE across industries or workplaces. Utilising data from a nationally representative survey of UWE reported by working age Australians, we investigate the extent of potentially unlawful UWE. Potentially unlawful UWE was identified by looking for instances in which the work experience was reported to involve the same work as that done by regular employees and which did not predominantly involve observing or performing mock or simulated tasks. By confining attention to such cases, and subsequently excluding those doing UWE for a reason that would likely bring them within exemptions in labour or social security legislation, we estimate that at least 10% of the UWE reported in the survey was potentially unlawful. This equates to over half a million Australians being involved in unlawful placements or internships between 2011–16. Respondents undertaking potentially unlawful UWE were more likely to do so for longer periods than those with apparently lawful arrangements, but were less likely to secure an offer of paid employment from the organisation hosting them.
Keywords: unlawful unpaid work, unpaid work experience, labour law
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation