All employees are entitled to pay and conditions under the Fair Work Act. In most cases, it is illegal to ask employees to do unpaid work. But there are some circumstances where unpaid work is allowed under the law. This includes:
- A vocational placement as part of an education or training course
- Undertaking work placements under a Commonwealth employment program
- Volunteering for a not-for-profit organisation
Sometimes employers ask job applicants to undergo a work trial. This is to see if the applicant has the skills needed to perform the job. Often these trials are unpaid – a practice that is not only unfair but may also be illegal.
An unpaid work trial is unlawful if:
- It isn’t necessary to demonstrate the skills for the job
- If the trial is longer than is reasonably needed
- You are required to do more than demonstrate the relevant skills
- There is no direct supervision of the trial
If any of the above has occurred, you must be paid the appropriate minimum rate of pay. Contact your union if you believe you have worked an unlawful work trial.
Work experience and internships
It is common for work experience arrangements or internships to be unpaid. However, this may be unlawful in the following circumstances:
- You are doing ‘productive’ work rather than just a meaningful learning experience, skill development or training
- Your work is mainly benefiting the business or organisation and not you
- The work would normally be performed by a paid employee
- The arrangement is for an extended period of time
If any of these circumstances apply, it may mean an employment relationship exists and you should be paid for it. Contact your union if you need advice concerning unpaid work experience or internships.