NSW Exploitation of Employers through Internship?

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30 September 2015
I'm running a blog based on internships and wanted to get some legal opinions on a story which was shared with me by a reader of the blog. Thank you in advance for your help!

This week we were contacted by D who wanted to share his experience while interning with an engineering company. D explained that he had been trying for some time to get an internship and had been in contact with two agencies but both tried to charge him $1000 for an unpaid internship which he refused to pay. With some effort he was “finally” able to snag an internship through referrals which enabled him to acquire the necessary course credits needed to complete his undergraduate engineering degree. Upon starting the internship, D’s supervisor assured him that the unpaid nature of their agreement was legal as he would be receiving course credits and that the agreement would be reviewed after five weeks if he was completing work which was benefitting the company.

This is where things go from bad to worse!

After 3 weeks D was working 10hr days, 5 days a week and completing work with no supervision which included estimates for engineering projects, liaising directly with sub-contractors and suppliers in addition to submitting tenders for his manager. D knew at the time that this was illegal, but was desperate to receive his course credits so continued without saying anything. After a further 2 weeks (5 week mark) D approached his supervisor to ask about remuneration as the work he was completing was to the benefit of the company and that which paid employees were carrying out. The response…His manager denied he ever suggested that D would be paid in any form and suggested that the downturn in the mining sector had impacted the company and they were not in a position to pay him. To add insult to injury, the manager advised that if funds became available that D MIGHT be paid.

D contemplated contacting the Fair Work Australia Ombudsman but was worried that he might lose his internship and not be able to graduate. He also expressed concern that he would damage the connections he had made with the organisation and the industry and thought these were more important in the long run than being paid. D eventually finished his 3 month placement without any payment.


Well-Known Member
11 October 2015
Hi Lestuzzi,

My opinion would be that he should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for sure!
On the facts it appears that his employer took advantage of him and didn't comply with their agreement of review after 5 weeks.

D should not feel like a claim would be a detriment to his position and he could perhaps even involve his institute of study by explaining his situation.

If D wants to feel 100% before making a claim he could even contact a firm that deals with workplace law to see what they think.

Serge Gorval

Well-Known Member
LawConnect (LawTap) Verified
2 November 2015

Generally speaking, there is no such thing under Australian Law as an unpaid internship.

However, if there is a requirement for practical training in order to qualify and obtain a degree, then it is not considered strictly employment however the org providing the internship must ensure that there is a training agreement in place and that the intern is being supervised etc.

As far as making a claim to FWO, it depends on what is being sought. If its financial compensation for time worked, then the FWO particularly over a 3 week period will not take action and the intern will be left to his own vices to pursue recourse through an applicable court.