Unpaid trial work

Some eager job seekers are being tricked into working for nothing in the hope of getting a job. It’s not fair, it’s illegal and most importantly it rarely leads to a paid job.

Here’s how if often works. The job seeker asks for a job and the boss says “try-out for a day and we’ll see how you go”. After a day of washing dishes, waiting tables or sweeping floors, the boss says he’ll call you if there is any work. Our job seeker is left with no pay and no job – that’s no good. This is called unpaid trial work – and it’s illegal.

“Trial work does not lead to a paid job”

A survey by Job Watch, an independent community legal centre, found that only 13% of people who complete an unpaid trial period are offered a paid position.

Sometimes unpaid trials periods might be dressed up as unpaid “internships”. But remember that if you’re not getting paid and not receiving formal training which contributes to an accredited vocational training course or university degree, it’s illegal.

The Fair Work Ombudsman says employers are acting illegally if they take on workers for unpaid work experience outside an education or training course placement.

  • If you say yes to a work trial, always ask if you will be getting paid for your time.
  • If they are going to pay you, make sure it is the award wage and no less.
  • If the employer says that you will not be getting paid for the trial shift, politely tell your employer that you are entitled to be paid for any work you do.

Trial work or probation periods are allowed – but you must get paid the award wage for every hour you work.

“The best way to avoid the unpaid trial work trap is to find out how much you will be paid per hour before you start.”

How are unpaid trials different from work experience or volunteering?

Work experience organised with your school, TAFE or university is fine. It will usually run for a set period and it will relate to your studies or career interests. From the beginning you will know that you aren’t getting paid and that you are there to learn.

Voluntary positions will be with not-for-profit or community organisations such as a sporting club, opportunity shop or charity. The purpose of volunteering is to help the community.

What should you do if an employer asks for an unpaid trial?

Politely explain you are keen to work for a trial period but that you want to be paid the award wage for the work you do.

If you did work for a trail period and were not paid you should:

  • Get in touch with the Fair Work Ombudsman and let them know.
  • Discuss what happened with your parents and friends.
  • Contact Australian Unions on 1300 486 466

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