When an internship becomes unpaid work

Hold up! We see what you’re doing there! What is presumably a dream internship can actually just be free labour for employers.

Take the case of Melbourne marketing and digital media company Big Datr. It recently had its ads pulled from job website Seek after it advertised for an army of interns to work for three, six and 12 months at a time with no financial compensation.

The ads, which have now been removed, tantalised prospective staff with the ability to earn their stripes while seeing “what’s currently playing on Spotify over the DJ decks”.

However the ‘internship’ also involved what is essentially full-time work, finding marketing strategies for the multi-million dollar brands and “squashing bugs” in the system.

The company offered no salary or compensation, but promised free fruit, Wii, DJ decks and an open bar in the office.

Workers were also able to “challenge the reigning table tennis champion”, have their efforts frequently rewarded with “emoji”, and not have to wear a tie.

The ad also stated that, if they were lucky, “stand out candidates may be offered a permanent full-time position”.

The Fair Work Act states unpaid work experience and internships can be illegal if the person is in a legally binding employment relationship, based on factors like length of time, obligations and who benefits from the arrangement.

Read the article at www.news.com.au

Did you spot the red flags?

  • Three to 12 month ‘internship’ + full-time hours = a lot of time spent doing work for free.
  • There is no payment for the work done, which should be expected considering the number of hours and duration of the placement. Instead there is ‘free fruit, Wii, DJ decks and an open bar in the office’, and the opportunity to play table tennis. This is not satisfactory compensation in Australia.
  • Lucky and ‘stand out candidates’ may be offered a full-time position. This is a common statement used by employers when taking on interns. It may be an incentive to work hard during your placement, but does not guarantee anything.


When applying for an internship it is important to consider what you will get out of it, how long it runs for, what the benefits are for the employer, what kind of duties you will be expected to perform, and how it will impact on your study/paid employment.


In 2011, the Fair Work Ombudsman identified the growing amount of unpaid work as an area for concern and commissioned a research report to find out more about it. The results of this report indicated that an increasing amount of people – young people especially – were being asked to perform unpaid trial shifts or internships that should actually be paid. You can read more about the report here.

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