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Unpaid internships take legally shaky turn

Chess board, divide, fire, debate

While the legality and ethics of unpaid internships have been debated for some time, reports suggest a new trend is emerging where would-be interns are essentially paying to work.

Fairfax Media has reported on the case of an IT postgraduate who paid for a 12-week internship at a small business.

The arrangement was reportedly established by two recruitment firms, which took a $990 administration fee for making the placement on behalf of the business.


However, such a process may in fact be in breach of workplace laws.

Earlier this year, a Queensland-based recruitment firm was forced to pay 10 people a combined sum of over $14,000 after the Federal Court found it had breached the law by not paying the jobseekers, despite earning fees for the placements.

A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) told My Business that situation reported by Fairfax Media is currently under investigation, and as such, would not comment further until those investigations are completed.

As the law currently stands, unpaid internships and work experience placements are allowable in certain instances, such as providing the person (often a student) with on-the-job experience or to test a person’s skills.

However, as the FWO website states, it becomes illegal not to pay someone when that person is in effect an employee of the business.

More information on the definitions of unpaid work and where the law stands on such placements can be found on the FWO website.



Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016. 

The two-time Publish Awards finalist has an extensive journalistic career across business, property and finance, including a four-year stint in the UK. Email Adam at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Unpaid internships take legally shaky turn
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