By Bayside Group

Mar 29, 2019

To work for free or not to work for free

Muffin Break made the news recently for all the wrong reasons when their General Manager, Natalie Brennan, expressed dismay that people didn’t want to work for free any more. Whether you call it an internship or work experience, it’s not unusual to be asked to work for free or very little pay. The big question is whether you should?


Keep your goals within reach

In some situations, it may make sense to take on a role for free or little pay for a short period of time. But identifying what roles you should take on isn’t always clear. To help you decide, ask these questions about the role:


  • What are you getting out of the arrangement? If you’re developing new skills, receiving training that you can use in another role, gaining a qualification or making contacts that will be valuable to you in the future then perhaps it’s worthwhile. Taking on an unpaid or low-paid role may also give you the opportunity to develop a portfolio of work that you can then use to get more opportunities in the future.
  • How long is the role for? If an assignment is unpaid, generally it should only be for a relatively short period of time like a few weeks or a couple of months. However, there are some specific situations, like apprenticeships, where the role may go for several years. The longer the role, the greater and more tangible your benefits should be.
  • Would someone else usually be paid to do the same type of work? If they would, then perhaps the organisation is taking advantage of you.
  • What paid position will this lead to? Before taking on the role, be clear about what type of position the role will lead to. This may also help you clarify what experiences you want to get from the position.
  • Will it look good on your CV? If the experience you gain will augment your skills and you believe it will help you get a paying job in the near future, then it may be worth doing.

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Is it legal?

In some situations it’s lawful for organisations to not pay people for work. This includes when:

  • You’re doing a placement or internship as part of a Commonwealth employment program.
  • You’re not an employee of the organisation. Whether you’re an employee depends on a range of factors but generally, if the purpose of the arrangement is to provide you with work experience then you’re less likely to be an employee. If the work is less about your training, learning or skill development, and more about helping the business operate productively, then you’re more likely to be an employee and should be paid for the work you do.
  • The organisation is testing your job skills with a view to possibly hiring you as an employee.
  • You’re volunteering for a not-for-profit organisation.

When you’re considering taking on an unpaid or low-paid job, it’s important to weigh these factors up to determine if the role has long-term benefit for you or if you’re in danger of being exploited. To help you find a role that gives you the opportunities you need, partner with an agency who can help you.

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