Unpaid job trials and internships are on the rise in Australia, with young graduates at particular risk of being exploited, according to new research.
The internships, which are common in the United States, have become increasingly popular in Australia but a new report out today says the arrangements are illegal.
It has prompted Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson to launch a crackdown on unpaid work experience.
"The advice I'd have to any person in that category would be to say 'look, don't do that'," he said.
"It really is putting you at risk of being a long-term unpaid person." Mr Wilson commissioned a report on the prevalence of unpaid work experience and internships in Australia.
University of Adelaide professor of law Andrew Stewart is one of the report's authors.
"It's clear from the Fair Work Act that if you are doing work experience as part of an authorised educational training course, then that's perfectly OK," he said.
"Outside that, if you've got a pretty firm agreement with your employer and it doesn't have to be in writing to come into work and to get something in return and that might be just experience or being able to add to your resume, your CV, that is capable at law of amounting to an employment contract, [you] therefore should be paid at least the minimum wage." Professor Stewart says it is hard to say how many Australians are doing unpaid work experience or internships.
But it seems to be common practice in most professions and the hospitality and hair and beauty industries.
He says acceptance of the practice has broad ramifications for the labour market.
"This is a great time to stop and think as a community, do we want to go down this road?" he said.
"Do we want to see paid entry-level jobs disappearing and instead people having to work for free for weeks or months to get a start in a particular industry or a particular occupation?" Mr Wilson says his office will now focus on educating employers and workers about work experience rights and responsibilities.
"We're going to be working first of all with peak councils of unions and employer groups over the next few months," he said.
"We'll be convening a forum in late February which is particularly to check in with unions and employer groups at the very highest level whether or not they see the same sorts of things." The Ombudsman says his office will also conduct targeted field inspections over the next few months and employers who do not heed warnings will most likely end up in court.