Young Australians are giving up on average $6000 to work in unpaid internships.
A report released by advocacy body Interns Australia surveyed 503 young people about their experiences working in internships, finding 86 per cent of our interns are working for free or below the minimum wage.
Ninety per cent of the group had undertaken one internship, while 28 per cent had completed three or more. The average internship lasted 45 days and on average cost $5913 in forfeited salary, based on the minimum wage.
Head of Interns Australia Dimity Mannering said interns were unlikely to bring up the issue of payment with bosses, even when they knew they were entitled to it.
“They’re very vulnerable and quite often young, they want to keep good relations with their employer,” she said.
Ms Mannering said interns were unlikely to ask for pay because they often hoped to receive a job offer at the end of their stint.
“In the end these are people who want jobs. They’re scared,” she said.
Unfortunately for those with high hopes, the research revealed people in unpaid internships were less likely to receive a job offer, with 35 per cent of paid interns going on to work for the same company compared with just 20 per cent of those who went without pay.
Industries such as media, communications and the arts were the worst offenders when it came to not paying, while Ms Mannering said the report suggested there may be scope for research into the role played by gender.
“Industries we consider to be male dominated, like engineering and finance, you’re more likely to find paid internship,” she said.
According to Ms Mannering, this could contribute to the gender pay gap later on, as “when you start off making zero, you’re on the back foot”.
So what is the answer for young Australians? Especially when completing internships is often now a necessary step on the road to a first full-time job?
Ms Mannering advised conducting proper research before accepting an internship, to avoid the pay dilemma later on.
“Speak to the Fair Work Ombudsman, they give good advice,” she said.
Expert opinion can sometimes be necessary as Australian law dictating intern rights is ambiguous.
“If you’re affiliated with a university or TAFE, and you’re getting credit for an internship, then working for free is legal,” she said.
But if you’re not undergoing education or training, there’s a good chance you’re being underpaid.
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