A student was underpaid almost $7000 during an internship with a Sydney firm of architects, a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation has found.
The student was completing a masters degree in architecture when he was paid $12 per hour for six months of full-time work.
His duties included architectural drawing, consulting with clients and and conducting site visits.
The Fair Work Ombudsman found that the student, aged in his 20s, should have been paid under the Architects Award and was short-changed $6830.
According to Australian labor laws, the student was performing work that was not part of his architectural education and should have received minimum wage payment. Australia’s minimum wage is $16.88 and after the student’s graduation his payment should have risen to $21.19 an hour.
The company also failed to pay the student his correct leave entitlements or to issue him with any pay slips.
The company back-paid the employee after the Fair Work Ombudsman’s intervention. It also agreed to donate $500 to Interns Australia.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said employers need to be aware that they are at risk of breaching workplace laws if they use unpaid work schemes as a source of free or cheap labor.
“When a worker moves beyond merely learning and observing and starts assisting with business outputs and productivity, workplace laws dictate that the worker must be paid minimum employee entitlements,” Ms James said.
“We don’t want to stifle genuine learning opportunities that help young people get a foot in the door, but we also don’t want to see young people being treated unfairly through unpaid work schemes.
“We want to educate employers and workers about what genuine learning opportunities look like.”
The issue is part of a larger, systematic problem that inhibits young people at the nascence of their careers. In conjunction with the massive loans need to get educated, un- and underpaid internships are an impossible burden to shoulder for many aspiring architects, yet are often presented as a normal and necessary aspect of getting into the profession.