Social issues

What You Need to Know About Internships

– by Sophia Joyce

Internships are usually a way for employers to give you experience in a role or test your skills out for a future job. These can take on different forms including vocational placements, unpaid internships, paid internships, work experience or work trials.

Most young people see internships as a logical step between education and a career, even though most are unpaid and only a few are paid. But if you are a student looking to get your foot in the door, there a few things you need to know about unpaid work regarding a For-Profit company.


There are lots of pros and cons to think about if you’re planning to undertake an unpaid internship. You could argue that they provide companies with free labour, inequality and offer no protection from workplace harm, discrimination or harassment. But some say that the experience an unpaid internship supplies is better than no internship at all.

Australia has made some kinds of unpaid internships unlawful under the Fair Work Act 2009, but it is a kind of grey area at the moment. The types of arrangements between employers and employees are the basis for lawful or unlawful unpaid work.

This means that it really depends on the nature of the agreement, as the person doing the work may be entitled to be paid the minimum wage along with other employee entitlements.

According to the Fair Work Act, an unpaid internship can only be legal if no employment relationship exists, but if there is an employment relationship it is illegal. Don’t worry though, you can’t sign off your fair work rights even if you have agreed to a written or verbal contract.

To figure out if you have an employment relationship there are a few characteristics:

– A legally binding arrangement either written or verbal,

– A commitment to perform work for the benefit of the business,

– Or performing work to get something in return.

If you have any of these it means that your employer owes you the minimum wage and work rights.

Lindsay olsonIf you’re confused about this like I was, there are a few things you need to think about.

What is the type of arrangement? Is it to provide a learning experience or is it to get you to do work that would usually be done by a paid employee?

How long is the internship for? If it goes for a long time then it is more likely that you should be an employee. Although some short internships can still be an employment relationship.

What is the person’s job? If your job is just to observe, and expectations and requirements are not primarily for the benefit of the business, then there isn’t an employment relationship.

Who benefits from the arrangement? The main benefit from a genuine unpaid work relationship should be to the person doing the role. If the business is benefitting the most, it is unlawful.

The most important thing about unpaid internships is that you should know what you’re getting into and have carefully considered your options. If unpaid internships aren’t for you, there are always other options like volunteering or interning for a Not-For-Profit company.

More information here on the Fair Work website.

Featured Image by Huffington Post; Working People Image by Huffington Post; Man Studying Image by Lindsay Olson 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *