Work experience, not exploitation, the key

THE Fair Work Ombudsman has announced a new focus on educating employers and employees about the legitimacy of schemes for unpaid work experience, following research by the University of Adelaide Law School.

The research uncovered a growing number of businesses using unpaid work schemes as an alternative to hiring paid staff.

The report also found young people and migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to being exploited through these schemes.

Key sectors of concern for unpaid work were trials in the hair and beauty industry, retail and hospitality while unpaid internships in the media, accounting and legal professions were quite widespread.

The Fair Work Ombudsman does not want to stifle genuine learning and development opportunities such as vocational placements linked directly to formalised training through universities or other training institutions.

It will focus on exploitation, such as a young person required to work unpaid in a cafe for a full week to test his or her "suitability" for a paid position as a barista, waiter or kitchen-hand.

The Fair Work Ombudsman will work towards implementing the report's six recommendations, which are:

  •   to better define unpaid work experience;
  •   expand guidance and education activities;
  •   conduct targeted campaigns in key industries identified in the report;
  •   instigate legal action before relevant courts where appropriate;
  •   improve liaison with relevant government agencies; and
  •   engage with key stakeholders representing employers and employees, vulnerable workers and educational institutions.

The guidance for businesses that use unpaid trials, internships or work experience is as follows:

Is there a contract?

Look at whether there is a written or oral contract of employment.

If someone is doing work for you and you are not paying them in broad terms, it is unlawful under the legislation if that person is an employee.

Vocational educational placements are exempt

There is a special exemption in the legislation for those who are working on a vocational educational placement.

But that has quite a strict meaning, it is for those who are doing work as a placement as part of a course or degree they are studying and that course has to be approved by government.

Check with the Fair Work Ombudsman

If businesses are at all hesitant they should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.

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