Internships and work rights

Understand what an employer can reasonably require from you.

Under the Fair Work Act, an internship needs to be paid unless:

  • It is a required and/or assessed part of your course, or
  • It is with a not-for-profit organisation.

There are various risks involved when undertaking different forms of work, depending on the workplace environment and your role and responsibilities. It is important that you consider the nature of any work you’ll be participating in and protect yourself with appropriate risk-mitigating measures accordingly.

You're required to work in a manner that is not harmful to yourself or others, while keeping in line with reasonable and lawful instructions. You also have the right to refuse unsafe work.

It is good practice to keep records and evidence of your employment, including:

  • Your work and other relevant details
  • The organisation's name, address and ABN, or if you are employed by a person, their full legal name
  • Copies of documents you've signed
  • Emails and texts
  • Written records of any verbal agreements.

Insurance

If your internship is paid, the employer will normally provide insurance cover. The University will only provide insurance cover if the internship is an assessable part of your enrolled course.

If you source an internship with a not-for-profit through Careers Online, you will usually be covered. These organisations have provided the University with evidence of Volunteer Personal Accident Insurance and Public Liability Insurance.

If you decide to participate in an unpaid internship that is not part of your study program and has not been sourced through Careers Online, you should consider taking out your own public liability and personal accident insurance.

Work rights and visas for international students

Part-time or casual work experiences within any Australian industry will be highly regarded by local employers, and will allow you to gain valuable transferrable skills and build a professional network while you earn.

Before you start working in Australia it’s important you know your rights, protections and responsibilities as an international student.

Everyone has work rights such as minimum wage, workplace health and safety, and protection against discrimination, bullying, harassment and victimisation.

There are also restrictions on what an employer can reasonably expect from you. For example, an unpaid work trial to demonstrate your skills should usually take only one shift (though it depends on the complexity of your role).

If you need help or advice please contact the Australian Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman, who are there to help you.

If you are a student visa holder looking for legal advice about your work rights, there are additional support services available to you, such as the International Students Work Rights Legal Service, which is free, confidential, independent, and offers multilingual assistance. Your visa cannot be affected by your seeking legal advice regarding work rights.

Explore further resources online:

Student visa conditions

If you are in Australia on a student visa, the number of hours you're permitted to work will be defined according to the conditions of the visa you have been granted.

These restrictions include any work experience placements that are not a mandatory requirement of your course, and are undertaken as elective subjects.

If you’re on a student visa undertaking coursework:

  • You are only allowed to begin working once your course has commenced.
  • During semester, including exam periods and any breaks in which you’re enrolled in a University subject (e.g. summer or winter subjects), the number of hours you’re allowed to work is limited to 40 hours per fortnight.
  • During scheduled course breaks (dates as defined by the key dates page) where you’re not enrolled in any subjects, you’re permitted to work unlimited hours.
  • Unless an internship or work experience placement is mandatory within the subject or course you’re enrolled in, it will count towards your 40 hour per fortnight work restriction, regardless of whether it's paid or unpaid.

If you’re on a student visa undertaking graduate research:

  • If you have commenced your masters by research or doctoral degree in Australia, there is no limit on the number of hours you may work.

For more information:

Voluntary work

You can gain work experience and professional skills while also serving others by working as a volunteer, if:

  • Your main purpose in Australia continues to be your studies (and any work remains a secondary activity)
  • The work is genuinely voluntary, and would not otherwise be undertaken by an Australian resident as employment
  • The activities are for a non-profit organisation and no remuneration (in cash or kind) is received in return.

For more information, see the Department of Home Affairs website.

Alternatives to internships

There’s a wide range of different work experience activities listed on our internships and work experience page. We recommend you explore this list and find opportunities which fit with your existing visa and work conditions.

Part-time and casual work

Working part-time will usually involve regular hours that add up to less than 38 hours per week, with leave benefits calculated according to your working hours. There should also be a period of notice upon termination of employment.

Casual work is on an hourly or daily basis, with no guarantee of regular hours, leave entitlements or notice of termination, but generally a higher rate of pay than part-time work.

If you work irregular hours, such as early mornings, late nights, weekends or public holidays, you may be entitled to higher pay or penalty rates.

You are also entitled to be paid for meetings, training, and time spent opening or closing the business.

For more information, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman's Pay and Conditions Tool (P.A.C.T).

Tax obligations

If you work and earn money in Australia, you need to obtain a Tax File Number (TFN) and lodge an annual tax return with the ATO.

Check your pay slip every pay period to make sure your tax obligations are being met. No matter how your employer chooses to pay you, your income tax must be sent to the Australian Tax Office without exception. It is illegal to be paid without having your taxes taken out – this includes ‘cash in hand’ payment.

While you are working in Australia, you will be paid superannuation contributions into a superannuation fund of your choice at a minimum rate of 9.5% of your salary. Your superannuation must stay in your fund while you remain in Australia, but you may be able to claim your superannuation after you leave.

For more information, see:

Help and advice

If you need help or advice, please contact the Australian Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman, who are there to help you.

If you are a student visa holder looking for legal advice about your work rights, there are additional support services available to you.

Explore further resources online: