Crocmedia branded ‘exploitative’ after failing to properly pay two interns for months

crocmedia logoThe treatment of two interns who worked for a pittance for months on end at Melbourne production house Crocmedia has been described as “exploitative” by a judge.

In the first ruling of its kind the company, co-founded by broadcaster Craig Hutchison and journalist James Swanwick, was ordered to pay a fine of $24,000 after failing to properly pay the pair who worked for the company for 14 months and six months respectively.

The duo, one a sports journalism student at university aged 20 to 21 at the time and other was aged 23 to 24 at the time and a recent graduate from a journalism course at university, were producing radio shows for the SEN Network working multiple shifts per week, including the overnight midnight to 6am shifts.

The Fair Work Ombudsman lodged the case in mid-2013 with the courts claiming the pair were entitled to be paid minimum wage of $18 per hour rather than being classed as volunteers, meaning the 21-year-old worker was entitled to be paid $5,767 and the other worker $19,341 his time, as opposed to $2940.

In yesterday’s ruling Judge Riethmuller of the Federal Circuit Court said while Crocmedia may not have intended to underpay the interns, the company was “content to receive the benefits that flowed from the arrangement, and that the arrangement itself, when viewed objectively, was exploitative”.

The company has since reimbursed the workers.

The decision was welcomed as “crucial” by Interns Australia, a lobby group set up to advocate for the fair treatment of interns,  with co-founder Colleen Chen saying: “While internships can provide valuable hands on experience for students and job seekers, the lack of provision in employment laws for interns and very high youth unemployment means that we are seeing more and more cases of interns working for free in positions when they should be paid a wage.”

She told Mumbrella the media industry was one of the worst offenders in the treatment of interns, with more young people looking to get into the industry and less jobs readily available.

“It’s getting increasingly hard for young people to get into the media sector, or any where there’s oversupply, where graduates exceed the number of jobs available” she added. “That’s leading to a lot more people doing unpaid work, which in turn leads to employers expecting people to have more experience for entry level roles.”

Asked if she expected to see an increase in the number of cases like this brought by unpaid workers she said “if the US and Canada is anything to go by then yes” pointing to a class action suit settled by publisher Conde Nast last year which paid out US$5.8m to thousands of interns, adding the Fair Work Ombudsman is pursuing several similar cases.

Crocmedia’s CEO Hutchison said in a statement: “We entered into these arrangements with the understanding that they were compliant with employment  law. We have always had many young people asking to gain experience in the industry and our intention was to give them a head start.

“Inadvertently we breached workplace laws and we acknowledge we made an error. We have been working cooperatively and positively with Fair Work Australia and accept the penalty handed down.”

Alex Hayes


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