As an intern, you are not entitled to payment of a minimum wage, if it is undertaken as a requirement of an education or training course authorised under a law or an administrative arrangement of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory. An internship is expected to be a learning experience, and is there to primarily benefit you and not the organisation.
If your internship does not satisfy the above criteria and you are performing productive work that contributing to the organisation in a meaningful way, then you could have entered into an employment relationship and you may be entitled to remuneration. Be wary of specific tasks and deadlines, which mean that your work is more than observational.
Work experience, internships and vocational placements are not the same as apprenticeships and traineeships - if you’ve entered into one of these arrangements you will be entitled to different conditions and pay.
“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.”
Remember - you are there to learn, not to perform the work of a paid employee.
How can you make the most of your internship?
- The best internships are clear about what they’re offering from the beginning. You and your organisation should be clear on the expectations and duties of the internship as well as what you’ll be learning or gaining from the internship
- Talk about how it’s going - meet regularly with a supervisor or mentor to evaluate both the internship and your progress.
- If you’re not being paid you might want to ask for a stipend, allowance for lunch or for a transport ticket to get you to and from the internship.
- Find a mentor in the workplace who can share their industry experience with you - this relationship can often last past the internship and throughout your career.
- Attend meetings, conferences and events as often as you can. They’re a great networking and learning experience and they’re opportunities to listen and learn about the industry.