Education Collective: Lawfully Unpaid Placements Lawfully Unpaid Placements

Education Collective: Lawfully Unpaid Placements

Many degrees require students to go on placement for a certain period of time in order for them to receive their degree. There are many reasons as to why placements are necessary for students in various industries. First hand experience is invaluable to both students and future employers. However, why is it that their work is lawfully unpaid?

We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis. Already burdened with HECS debt, soaring rent and rising costs at supermarkets, a lot of students are already finding it hard to keep afloat in the current climate. Students are forgoing meals and taking up more shifts at work to survive. Recent ABS data shows a record number of young people are working multiple jobs at 194,000. Last year, the New South Wales Council of Social Services also reported that 74% of people aged 25 to 24 were facing housing stress, and almost half of that group was finding it hard to pay their bills. A third of that group, and a similar amount of young people aged 18 to 24 also were unable to pay their rent or mortgage on time. When students are then faced with unpaid placements with demanding hours, it makes it virtually impossible to live. 

Students completing placements, as stated by the Fair Work Ombudsman, ‘are not considered to be employees and therefore are not entitled to the minimum wage or other entitlements provided under the FW Act.’ But why not? A student placement may be a learning experience, but students are still offering their labour, willingly or not. This rings especially true for industries such as nursing where student placements require them to be on shift full-time. At this time, many students are forced to work late night or early morning hours just to put food on the table. As much as I wish it were true, many students just don’t have somebody to support them financially when going on placements. 

There is no debate that placements are essential for students. They are mandatory and they are for a reason. Placements provide students with hands-on knowledge of an industry related to their degree which they are likely to pursue. Yet, in our current state unpaid placements are increasingly unlivable for students. Wanting to complete a degree and get experience in a desired field should not cause anybody to work unacceptable hours or to forgo necessities such as food or power.

There needs to be a change.