A new advocacy group is standing up for a silent, but exploited, section of the Australian workforce. Interns Australia is the first organisation to bring attention to businesses ruthlessly exploiting unpaid or under-paid labour through dodgy internships.

Many industries offer internships. Their argument is that such work offers job seekers industry experience crucial to landing a paid position. But many industries cycle through unpaid interns. Rather than offering them a paid position they dismiss them prior to the end of their contract (if they have one) and replacing them with another unpaid intern.

Thus businesses get free labour.

Last week Crocmedia was fined $24,000 by the Federal Circuit court for breaching such minimum wage laws. The business was found o have inadequately paid two interns over the temrm of a year. One received the princely sum of $2,940 for 14 months on the job when they should have earned the minimum $19,341. While the second was paid nothing during the time he/ she should have earned $5,767.

Crocmedia, it was found, had the two interns performing the duties of someone in a paid position.

“Currently there is a lack of clarity (under the law),” said Ms Colleen Chen co-founder and deputy director of the intern advocacy group, Interns Australia. “Some employers have interpreted that as allowing for unpaid interns. It’s got to a point where some employers are demanding three or six months of unpaid work from interns. It’s replacing entry level jobs and young people are not being recognised for the work they are doing.

“Even if students gain experience from internships, experience is incidental to any form of work. We don’t see it as a substitute for payment. Work ought to be renumerated. There are those who have had a positive experience from internships, but we can’t be sree that all young people will have that experience.”

Ms Chen went on to explain that small and medium sized businesses are the most likely culprits. They use the promise of a paid position to extort free labour from hopeful jobseekers.

Ms Chen believed the government needed to formulate an accreditation scheme enshrining in law the rights of interns and the obligations of a business towards them.

At the present Interns Australia is formulating just such a proposal to present to the government.

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