Scour through any Australian job listings website, and you’re sure to find hundreds of internship options. The catch: at the bottom of the advertisement, in tiny size 8 font, many will read ‘this position is unpaid’.

For a company, this may seem like a great idea. Free labour, and the chance to siphon off grunt work onto an unskilled student. However, not only could this unpaid intern be a drain on your company, but offering an unpaid position could land you in some legal problems. 

Theoretically, an internship should be mutually beneficial. The intern should learn new skills and gain experience in their field, while the company will benefit from an extra pair of hands and fresh perspectives on different projects. However, recent years have led to mounting criticism over the ‘exploitative’ nature of unpaid internships. It is a little too close to slave labour to make a 20-year-old do endless photocopying and filing for no pay. 

Taking on an unpaid intern may not be in your best interests, either. To make an unpaid internship lawful, the intern:

  1. Must not undertake ‘productive’ work; 
  2. The benefit of the internship should be the intern, not the company; and
  3. The intern must receive a meaningful learning experience and/or skill development. 

If your company cannot fulfil these three criteria, then the intern should be paid. 

Moreover, unpaid interns are usually a drain on staff productivity, and due to lack of financial incentive, are not very productive themselves. Some will argue that no one forces students to undertake unpaid work. This is not entirely accurate, as internships have slowly become mandatory for recent graduates looking for full-time work. In certain fields, particularly journalism, politics, film, and social services, internships are crucial to securing entry-level positions. When did this become the case? When did internships become so prolific that bright, talented students started to ruthlessly compete for the chance to work for no pay? 

If you want your company to get the most out of an intern, offer a paid position. You will attract higher calibre candidates, and be able to get the best person to work on your team. Financial incentive is also a great motivator for productivity – a paid intern will work harder and faster than an unpaid one, and will be more enthusiastic about their work. If your company is considering taking on an intern, offering a paid position is in the best interests of you and the intern. And really, is minimum wage really that much?