The Government’s pre-election budget includes a new $804 million internship initiative geared at getting jobseekers into work. Part of the plan is to place those jobseekers in internships where they’ll work up to 25 hours a week for an extra $200 per fortnight on their existing welfare payments. Businesses that provide the internship will receive $1,000 for doing so and up to $10,000 if they subsequently employ the intern.

Critics are highlighting problems with potential exploitation and the issue of what works out to be $4 per hour ‘wages’ along with fears that interns, who won’t come at a cost to the employer, will end up replacing paid workers.

Supporters note the initiative recognises the shortcomings of previous work for the dole schemes and is beneficial in that it seeks to provide those jobseekers with real work experience, particularly in light of the fact the internship follows an intensive six week period of ‘pre-employment skills training’.

Either way, is this a green light for unpaid internships? Not so fast.

We’ve previously discussed the risks of taking on volunteers and unpaid interns here. The upshot is that when those individuals are performing work for the company, the obligation on the employer to pay them for that work kicks in. The minimum wage is presently $17.29 per hour.

We’re yet to see the details of the government plan, but for employers to get away with not paying interns, they’ll still need to make sure the internship complies with the scheme, or the current exemptions under the Fair Work Act.