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Journalist’s union puts spotlight on unpaid internships asking people to speak out

Unions unpaid internsThe union representing creative professionals is urging unpaid interns to get in touch if there are concerns the work involved is beyond that of a normal unpaid internship and they are being exploited.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance is urging interns to call the union if they think their “work falls outside the bounds of a reasonable internship”.

“MEAA has recently become aware of some unpaid jobs being advertised on websites as ‘internships’ when they are anything but that. Unpaid work like this is a blight on our industry that results in the exploitation of young and vulnerable workers,” union CEO Paul Murphy told Mumbrella. 

“Not only are these jobs unpaid, but they often also require the workers to cover their own travel and other expenses.”

In January a judge described the treatment of two interns who worked for a pittance for months on end at Melbourne production house Crocmedia as “exploitative”.

On this case Murphy said: “It was fined $24,000 for breaching minimum wage provisions and failing to pay two interns, one who worked 14 months and another who worked six months in its Melbourne office, between 2011 and 2013.

“There are many more cases like this that slip under the radar, and young people entering the workforce in the media sector should be fully aware of their rights and avoid being ripped off,” he added.

In June last year digital agency If You Build It defended a job ad looking for unpaid interns to write web articles for its online director startup as a chance for “passionate writers to get their name out there”.

Murphy

Murphy

More recently The Guardian and the soon-to-be launched Huffington Post Australia came under fire for asking journalists to write for free or for below Award rates.

“This is a perennial issue that has also been highlighted by the Fair Work Ombudsman’s 2013 research report that found unlawful unpaid work was prevalent in the media industry,” Murphy said.

Murphy did admit there are cases where unpaid work is acceptable such as a work experience or vocational placement or voluntary work for a not-for-profit organisation.

“But the line must be drawn between these examples and media companies attempting to avoid their obligations as employers to pay their workers and provide decent conditions,” he said.

“Far too often unpaid work often used by media companies to take advantage of young graduates desperate for a foothold in the sector.”

Murphy said the union has been working with advocacy body Interns Australia to raise awareness among graduates and young workers about their rights to be paid for work.

“They can obtain professional legal and industrial advice by contacting MEAA’s help desk on 1300 656 513,” he said.

Miranda Ward

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