University students’ unpaid internships

Posted By TEU on Sep 4, 2014 |

Some university graduates are working months at a time as unpaid interns according to a New Zealand Herald investigation last weekend.

The paper reports that unpaid work internships have long been a component of tertiary education, and there are now some that go for an indefinite amount of time.

“While unpaid internships may help graduates into full-time work, some employers offer vague promises and open-ended terms – effectively taking advantage of free labour,” the paper said.

AUT’s Danae Anderson told the Herald the problem seemed to crop up a few years ago, mainly with international students trying to get experience.

“The internship periods seem to be longer now. Rather than getting that ‘Kiwi’ experience, we’re starting to find New Zealanders are starting to work as unpaid interns.”

“With a lack of legislative oversight governing internships it really is a grey area,” Danae Anderson says.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly told the paper all unpaid work is illegal, unless an employer can show it is a genuine training opportunity.

“And for most of these [unpaid internships following graduation] you just won’t find that,” Helen Kelly says.

“In my view, this type of arrangement is little different to unpaid trials endured by some workers in the hospitality industry and in a precedent-setting Employment Court case last year, one of these was ruled illegal.”

Helen Kelly says when the interning arrangement fits the definition of work, rather than training, the person involved could take a pay claim, even seven years after the arrangement.

Auckland University career development manager Catherine Stephens told the Herald the term “internship” is now applied too broadly.

“In the purest sense an internship is supposed to be a learning experience. If it’s unpaid, the internship should be mostly for the benefit of the student. Remember, if it’s a genuine training opportunity, that student is taking someone out of the workplace to help train them – they’re receiving something tangible and not being exploited at all.

“But if they are taking the place of an employee, then the work should be paid because they’re doing the work that otherwise an employee would do.”

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