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Are unpaid internships illegal?

Are unpaid internships illegal?

APR 11: Unpaid work experience placements and internships are a rite of passage for many young people looking to crack into their chosen industry.

But two legal experts from the University of Adelaide are now investigating such arrangements to see if they are actually legal.

Andrew Stewart and Rosemary Owens have been commissioned by the Fair Work Ombudsman to clarify concerns around unpaid work.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that a growing number of workers are offering, or being asked, to do unpaid internships or work experience," Stewart said.

"They often do this in order to get a foothold in the labour market. In most cases there's no problem when it's a short placement, especially if it's done as part of a recognised education or training program.

"However, there are instances where young workers have spent months, or even years, doing unpaid work that would ordinarily be undertaken by a regular employee."

Stewart said there was a pressing need to identify what was lawful and establish a better understanding of how these arrangements should be regulated and at what point experience became exploitation.

Stewart and Owens will consult with industry groups, unions, government and non-government bodies, universities and schools about their experiences and perspectives on the issue, and will also look at what happens overseas.

"Workers may be entitled not just to be paid for their work, but to receive other benefits such as superannuation and holiday pay," said Owens.

"It's important for everyone to be clear on when that is the case and when it should be the case."