What is an Unlawful Internship?



Did you know…

Many Australian students are unaware of the legalities surrounding unpaid internships. There is a significant difference between the role of an unpaid intern and an employee.

Unpaid internships are intended as training/educational programs that give insights into how the industry and certain job roles within that industry operate. Thus, unpaid internships are required to be attached to a pre-established, outlined training program.  Unpaid interns should not act as employees of the business. This means that the business should not be reliant upon an unpaid intern to fulfil the role or complete work that would otherwise be done by an employee. If this is the case then the individual is fulfilling the role of an employee and not an intern, thus they should be paid as one.

Ways to spot an illegal Internship…

  1. Consider whether the business is using your work on any of their platforms. If this is the case, you are fulfilling the role of an employee and not an unpaid intern.
  2. The length of your internship can also be a sign of illegal proceedings. Generally, if the internship is longer than three months, there is a high possibility that you are more likely an employee.
  3. If the work you are completing is productive, for example, it serves a specific purpose for the operation of the business, then it is likely you are acting as an employee.
  4. If the business is directly benefiting from your arrangement, then it is highly likely you are acting the role of an employee.

One of the main issues with unpaid internships is that young Australians are being exploited for the financial benefit of the employer without any recognition or reward for their effort. This culture is extremely detrimental for young Australians.

The prevalence of illegal internships in Australia is on the rise because young Australians are unaware or too afraid to report exploitative businesses. Additionally, there is a transcending ‘grey’ area surrounding the legal implications of illegal internships.

Tilly South, co-founder of Interns Australia stated that “Interns know if they speak up publicly, they’re damaging their chances of finding work later on”. This is one of the main reasons why interns are constantly exploited by large corporation’s.

As students, it is important to be on the look-out for businesses that seek to take advantage of you. If you are currently interning at an organisation that displays these traits, tell someone! Whether you anonymously post a tip to a media outlet such as @dodgyinternship (dodgyinternshipsaustralia@gmail.com) or talk to a careers counsellor at your educational institution, it is important that illegal and exploitative internships come to an end.

To find out how to find and secure a paid internship read our previous blog post for some tips and tricks.

For more info, head to our Facebook and Twitter pages.

With Care,


(A member of the Informed Interns Team).




8 thoughts on “What is an Unlawful Internship?

  1. Mike chen says:

    This is quite informative. Though I would like to add how unclear work guidelines in Australia prevent companies from knowing the risks of hiring an unpaid intern. Nice job!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fiona Lynette says:

    I’ve noticed that huge organisations such as the UN or Embassies offer no financial support for interns, and that everything is ‘accommodation, living expenses are at their own cost’. How can that be legal when applicants are even expected to fly in from their home country?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roisin O'Neill says:

      Unfortunately, this is the case for many large organisations including many political offices as well. There is a horrible stigma with internships, in particular, that the individual is indebted to the organisation for giving them the opportunity. This is why many organisations expect interns to fund their own work experience/internships!


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