Here are some handy points for everyone to take a look at via the Fair Work Ombudsman. Even though I’ve been interning for 15 months now, I had no idea that the Australian Government provided assistance for students trying to gain experience and provided guidelines for students and employers.
Know your rights
To find out more information please visit the Fair Work Ombudsman Internships, Vocational Placements and Unpaid Work factsheet.
Employers are often approached by interested people (such as students) hoping to gain industry experience to aid them in their own career path. Sometimes unpaid work arrangements are entered into.
A common issue that can arise in these arrangements is whether or not an employment relationship has actually been created.
This fact sheet outlines some of the types of arrangements that can exist, the relationship between unpaid work and the relevant workplace laws and the problems that can sometimes occur. Each case will require a consideration of its own particular facts. Employers who fail to meet their obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) can face penalties of up to $33,000 per breach.
Work experience & internships
Unpaid work experience placements and internships that don’t meet the definition of a vocational placement can be lawful in some instances. To be lawful, businesses need to ensure that the intern or work experience participant is not an employee.
One key issue in determining whether an employment contract has been formed is whether the parties intended to create a legally binding employment relationship.
When assessing whether the parties intended to form a legally binding employment relationship some key indicators would be:
- Purpose of the arrangement. Was it to provide work experience to the person or was it to get the person to do work to assist with the business outputs and productivity?
- Length of time. Generally, the longer the period of placement, the more likely the person is an employee
- The person’s obligations in the workplace. Although the person may do some productive activities during a placement, they are less likely to be considered an employee if there is no expectation or requirement of productivity in the workplace
- Who benefits from the arrangement? The main benefit of a genuine work placement or internship should flow to the person doing the placement. If a business is gaining a significant benefit as a result of engaging the person, this may indicate an employment relationship has been formed. Unpaid work experience programs are less likely to involve employment if they are primarily observational
- Was the placement entered into through a university or vocational training organisation program? If so, then it is unlikely that an employment relationship exists.
A local council has advertised an internship program for university students interested in government processes. The internships have been advertised as voluntary and students are allowed to select the hours they spend at the council office over a 2 week period. As the council is careful to ensure that the role is mainly observational, there is no expectation that the students will perform productive work during their internship and the student is gaining the main benefit from the arrangement, it is unlikely to create an employment relationship.
Stuart recently completed a Bachelor of Journalism and is looking for work as a journalist. Stuart responds to an advertisement to write for his local paper on a full-time basis for 3 months as an ‘unpaid intern’ to try and gain experience and increase his chances of employment. Since Stuart had completed his degree and the placement was not a requirement of his course, it cannot be considered a vocational placement under the FW Act. The paper advises Stuart that he will be given specific tasks and deadlines to complete that will assist in the production of the paper and that this productive activity will take up the majority of his time. This suggests Stuart may have been engaged as an employee and entitled to remuneration.
If Stuart mainly observed how the newspaper operated for a few hours a week over 2 weeks and there was no expectation of productive work for the business, it is unlikely that he would be considered an employee.
Whether or not an employment relationship exists depends on the specific circumstances and any agreement reached between those concerned. Educational institutions and businesses should seek professional advice from their solicitor, chamber of commerce or industry association before entering into any such arrangement.
Vocational placements and work experience are not the same as formal placements such as apprenticeships and traineeships. For information on these types of placements, visit the Apprenticeships and traineeships section of www.fairwork.gov.au.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has published fact sheets on many elements of the Fair Work Act 2009 and employer obligations including modern awards, general workplace protections and unlawful discrimination. To access these fact sheets, as well as additional information and resources to help you understand your rights and obligations, visit www.fairwork.gov.au or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.
I finally scored myself an internship at a sports organization. I have been following up a couple of clubs in rugby union and in the AFL since mid last year. After learning about the experiences that Luke, Ashleigh, Aimme and Anne had in the AFL as interns, I really wanted to experience the inner workings of a sports organization myself.
At uni this semester I am undertaking an internship subject where we are required to do 120 hours worth of unpaid work experience. I already intern at Milk PR and, I will be doing a weeks worth of work experience at Cosmopolitan Magazine in April. It seems that these were not enough for me. I wanted to do more interning.
Late on a Sunday afternoon I was doing some homework for my internship subject and was writing down organizations I’d like to work for. Melbourne Storm was on my list.
I had met Social Media Manager Daniel Pinne at a photo shoot for Milk PR and Heartkids. Daniel was actually following me on twitter so we swapped contact details. I decided on a whim to send Daniel a quick email asking if he was still looking for interns. He replied the next day and we set up a phone interview.
I emerged from my home study after my conversation with Daniel and announced to my Dad, “Guess who is Melbourne Storm’s newest intern?” and he gave me a hi-5 and we discussed the challenge that lay ahead of me.
I’m not going to lie. I know little about NRL and about Melbourne Storm. A year ago rugby was not even in my vocabulary. How much things can change in a year.
Because of a university assignment I fell in love with rugby union and the Melbourne Rebels. Now because of my determination to find some work experience at a sports organization, I find myself working for the other rugby code – rugby league – and Melbourne Storm.
A year ago I also knew nothing about public relations and I look at how far I have come. I have recently finished up the PR for Sexpo Sydney with my boss Shereen. I set up several radio interviews for the international Sexpo talent such as Ron Jeremy, sent countless emails to the media locking in press, kept a WIP file of all my progress and wrote up media schedules for talent. I couldn’t have imagined doing these tasks by myself a year ago.
Yesterday I went to my first NRL game, Melbourne Storm v Sydney Roosters. Storm crushed the Roosters 44-4. I felt lucky to have experienced the game from such an incredible view, up high in the press box. Billy Slater is an absolute freak, I would almost compare him to Geelong’s Steve Johnson because of their abilities to read the play and score the un-scoreable.
My tasks during the match were to keep an eye on the Storm’s twitter feed, take photos of the match for a half time facebook post. At half time, I updated Storm’s facebook page with the photo I had taken and updated the page again at full time. Daniel told me that he was aiming for the days overal facebook ‘likes’ to be around 5,000. The page received well over that.
Storm’s official twitter page was going nuts. After the game I was in charge of asking fans a couple of questions to keep the conversation going and kept using the hashtag ‘#purplepride’. When I asked who was the best player on ground yesterday, many fans replied with one to three players but noted the entire team worked collectively for the 40-point roasting.
Embarking on this new adventure at Melbourne Storm does make me nervous. I know I am capable of doing the work and learning everything I can from Daniel and the team. I would also hope that I bring a different perspective to my internship and some new ideas.
I realize how much of a chance Daniel is taking on me and I hope I can fullfil his expectations.
I also know that I’m not doing this internship without any fellow student support. Another LTU student Jonathan Demos will be blogging for Storm this season (Jonathan is also the match reporter for the Box Hill Hawks). Past featured intern Dion Bennett will also blog for the Storm on the odd occasion.
If I can give a piece of advice to interns and students reading this wondering how I did it all…my advice is to be proactive. You have to at some point stop talking about what you’re going to do and just simply do it.
Start that blog, create your own twitter account, write articles, get published and send out your resume to organizations asking about internships. Get your foot in the door in the media industry any way you can.
I honestly thought I wouldn’t have a chance this year after my attempts at finding a sports internship were looking slim. As one door closes, another door opens and, I suppose sometimes it’s a little bit of luck and being at the right place at the right time.
It is also your determination and belief in yourself to just send one more email and ask. Who knows you might eventually get a ‘yes’ like I did.You can follow Melbourne Storm and my new boss Daniel Pinne on twitter. You can also read yesterday’s Melbourne Storm match report written by Dion.