7: Watch out for unpaid work

‘Work trials’ or ‘trial shifts’

Watch out for employers who ask you to work an unpaid trial period before officially giving you a job. Legally, you must be paid for any work you do, as well as any training you’re required to do.

If it’s anything more than a quick skills demonstration, or you’re doing any kind of productive work, then you should be getting paid. If an employer wants to assess you further, they can employ you for a paid probationary period.

If you are concerned, start by asking how much you will be paid and when.


Volunteering involves doing work to benefit someone else, with no expectation of being paid – most often for charities, not-for-profit organisations, or community organisations. However, this isn’t the same as just doing unpaid work. For a start, volunteers don’t have the same responsibilities as employees and only need to volunteer when it suits them.

Helping out at home/helping relatives

While doing jobs at home or for family can count as work, you don’t have the same rights and responsibilities as you do in a formal workplace. For example, you might help Uncle Bob paint his new fence – it’d be nice if he paid you but he isn’t legally required to.

Work experience

Work experience placements are a great way to observe a workplace and learn more about a career you’re interested in. Short term placements organised by your school are a good way to see work up close. However, unpaid work experience that isn’t linked to study needs to be treated with caution.

Remember that voluntary, work experience and trainee positions are still covered by laws governing things like OH&S and workplace discrimination.


Getting Paid in Kind

While it’s fine for your employer to give you things such as free meals, drinks or clothes while you are at work, it’s not okay to provide these things in place of actual pay.

  • Watch out for unpaid trials
  • Consider volunteering
  • Be careful about unpaid work experience (except linked to study)

Relevant Resources

Equality, Rights
Wave Hill sources and resources
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First Job
1: Are you ready for a job?
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First Job, Uncategorized
2: No experience? Don’t panic!
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