Unpaid work

Understand the different types of legitimate unpaid work and unpaid work where the person involved should be paid.

Reasons for unpaid work

Unpaid work can occur in the workforce in different forms – from vocational placements to unpaid job placements, internships, work experience and trials. They are entered into for a number of reasons. These include:

  • to give a person experience in a job or industry
  • to provide training and skills and/or work experience as part of formal programs to assist people to obtain work
  • to test a person’s job skills, or
  • to volunteer time and effort to a not-for-profit organisation.

Not paying the person doing the work in some of these arrangements can be lawful. For example, for defined vocational placements, or where a job seeker is not an employee, but rather is receiving benefits from the government and undertaking a work placement as part of a Commonwealth employment program.

When a person is actually an employee

In cases where the person is actually an employee, they are entitled to pay and conditions under the Fair Work Act.

If a person is an employee, they may also need to complete formal or informal training to make sure they have the right skills and knowledge to perform their job. This can include on-the-job training, online or formal training courses or team training.

If an employee has to do training as part of their job, they have to be paid the right pay for those hours worked.

Employees also have to be paid the right pay for time spent in team meetings or opening and closing the business, if their employer requires them to be there.

Example: Payment for training

Joe just started as a sales assistant in a shop. Before his first shift, he had to complete an online course that showed him how to use the cash register and explained all the company policies. This took him 2 hours. When he finished the course he worked 3 hours on the shop floor.

Because the training was compulsory, Joe had to be paid for the 2 hours he spent doing the online training as well as the 3 hours he worked on the shop floor.

Find out about types of unpaid work arrangements and some of the problems that can occur with:

Tools and resources