The ACTU has welcomed a new report by the Fair Work Ombudsman on Internships, Work Experience and Unpaid Work, but said that the issue is part of a broader problem faced by 40% of the workforce in insecure work and had been overlooked for too long.
“The evidence shows that the number of people who are exploited by unpaid work is growing, in areas such as internships. unpaid work trials, non-payment for higher duties, unpaid overtime, and non-payment for essential work tasks such as setting up before shifts or attending meetings,” ACTU President Ged Kearney said at the launch of the report in Melbourne today.
“This practice undermines the pay and conditions that Australian workers have fought for and is a major contributor to insecure work. If you are contributing to the productivity and profitability of a business then you should be paid.
“This is an issue where there is a clear need for more enforcement, as well as a cultural change by employers. It was pretty shocking to read in the report that one employer association advised its members that unpaid work trials are acceptable, as long as the employee agrees to it.
“The union movement wants to work with the FWO and employer groups to ensure that interns and other young workers are not exploited by employers requiring them to do unpaid work.”
Ms Kearney said the issue was a particular problem for young workers in unpaid internships or work trials.
“Many young people see an internship or work trial as the best way of getting into a chosen career, and some employers are increasingly exploiting this,” Ms Kearney said.
“For every intern who moves into paid work, there are many for whom the long hours never turn into a paid job. Increasingly we find workers moving from one unpaid entry level job to another, sometimes for years on end, without ever getting that first paid opportunity.
“Employers should not be exploiting a difficult employment market, and young people’s desire to break into their career of choice. Unpaid work is illegal, even if the worker agrees to do it.”
Ms Kearney said unpaid work reduced job security and the number of secure jobs in Australia.
“Unpaid work is unfair to the majority of employers who do the right thing and pay their workers what they are entitled to but are forced to compete against businesses relying on unpaid workers for free labour,” she said.
“This leads to a race to the bottom that reduces wages and job security. Unpaid work isn’t just unfair to workers; it’s also bad for employers and society as a whole.”
Ms Kearney said that there needed to be more strategic and targeted enforcement measures as part of a national campaign.
Ged Kearney’s full speech at the launch of the report by the Fair Work Ombudsman is available in the speeches section at www.actu.org.au