Big Datr in social media furore over unpaid internship ad

Melbourne digital media company Big Datr has faced the furore of social media over a job advertisement asking interns to work for free.

The advertisement for the start-up business, which promised to “frequently reward” an intern’s efforts “with emoji” (emoticons) and free “brekkie”, was reportedly offering the unpaid placements for three, six or 12 months at a time.

It has since been removed from job site SEEK, but was aimed at finding interns to “do a daily standup with the team, find out what needs to be done and set goals”.

Other tasks included contributing to internal data libraries and evaluating processes, as well as to “squash bugs and help save our users”.

The company lists on its website big business clients including Mojo, Toyota, Honda, KIA and DDB.

Social media users reacted poorly to the advertisement, focusing on the fact it was not paying the potential interns.

One Twitter user, ‏@DavBlayn, wrote: “@BigDatr now offers internships to people who are willing to accept emoji. *cough* Fair Work Act *cough*”.

Another, @EdDJGex wrote: “Hey @BigDatr I want your company to do some work for me… How many emoji will it cost? You clowns ought to be ashamed.”

One tweet, from @thisiscgoodwin, highlighted the potential for legal issues related to unpaid internships: “I really thought that a company like @BigDatr would be fully aware of Fairwork’s (sic) massive inquiry into unlawful internships last year…”.

SEEK public relations spokesperson Sarah Macartney told SmartCompany that it was Seek’s role to “maintain the integrity of job ads” on the site.

“We need to ensure all ads on SEEK comply with the Fair Work Act,” she says.

Michael Moens from Big Datr told SmartCompany that the language and tone used in the ad “appears to have been misunderstood”.

“We removed the ad in response. The language was intended to attract like-minded creative individuals, who are keen to work in an innovative, start-up environment,” he says.

“The probationary internships, primarily sourced through relationships with universities, as well as advertised on SEEK, were offered in good faith. These were intended to provide opportunities to those interested in developing industry experience at Big Datr, and in some instances formed the industry-based learning components of their degrees.”

He says no internships with the business are longer than three months, and each intern gets comprehensive, formal training to assist their career development.

“Big Datr has offered ongoing full-time paid employment to 50% of the individuals that have completed a probationary internship.”

He says the company may review the language and tone of its advertisements in the future.

Fair Work stipulates the terms in which it is acceptable to have interns in a business, with issues such as the length of time and their obligations taken into account. Within the realms of a university internship placement, interns generally don’t have to be paid. However for arrangements made outside of an educational institution, companies should tread cautiously.

TressCox Lawyers partner Rachel Drew previously told SmartCompany it was important for employers to document any internship arrangements.

“Employers need to have clear arrangements with their staff. They may have had full conversations about their entitlements, but if it’s not recorded in writing, eight to 12 months later you will be in a very difficult position trying to prove what was agreed,” she said.

Drew said it is vital to clearly distinguish between a work experience student and an intern, or a person working at the company as a trainee prior to commencing employment.

“If you’re at a company on work experience, it’s often lawful and common for this not to be paid.”

“There isn’t any legal limit on how long a person can conduct work experience for, but you would think a court looking at an arrangement which extends over such a longer period of time would think it was a relationship other than a volunteer one,” she said.

Some business owners see internships as a valuable way to contribute to the education of a student, and in return may find staff they can hire for their company.

SmartCompany professional development writer Kirsty Dunphey said there are companies “I’d do an unpaid internship at right now and many that I would pay for the privilege of doing so for what I would learn”.

“Would I feel exploited at the end of it? Hardly, I’d feel enriched if I were given the opportunity to learn from the inside. And the beautiful thing about it would be that if I felt exploited I could simply leave.”

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