Unpaid internships: what’s the hidden cost?


Debate kicks off after an Australian company is found to charge nearly a thousand dollar fee for unpaid work experience.

It sounds like a pretty sweet gig: you get weeks of work experience, workshops, wifi, unlimited coffee.. even yoga!

One thing you’re not going to get? Paid.

That’s what Industry Placements Australia is advertising: a three-month unpaid internship with a small ‘administration fee’ of $990  if the applicant is successful. This particular job is with Melbourne software design firm, Future Squared.

Industry Placements Australia says that fee covers staff, insurance and location costs - and is often, but not always, covered by universities.

The law is pretty clear on what an unpaid internship should be -  the intern should get ‘meaningful experience’ or training, not just do work that the employer would otherwise pay someone for. However,  the laws don’t really dictate whether the intern should be paying their money for this.

Advocates for fair internships say they’re concerned.

‘There’s a lack of regulation in this space, says Interns Australia Director Jack Kenchington-Evans, ‘that leads to interns being exploited in placements that are low quality CV stuffers’.

For young people, internships are a common experience - a recent survey found more than half of 18-29 years olds have participated in unpaid work experience in recent years. Half of that work was connected to some type of formal education or training.

In a statement sent to The Feed, Industry Placements Australia said it was focussed on ‘making work placement accessible to every student studying at a tertiary level in Australia’.

The Fair Work Ombudsman says it’s now looking into the Future Squared Case.

But speaking to The Feed, Future Squared’s Director Zakk Goodsell says his company does not take a cent of the nearly-one thousand dollar fee.

‘The interns aren’t paying us at all - Future Squared has never taken money from an intern, and never will’.

Paying for the privilege to work for free might sound like a big rort … but is it just a new fact of professional life?