Digital marketing firm Netstripes cops heat over unpaid internship ads requiring applicants to have Bachelor’s degrees

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A small business-focused digital marketing firm has come under fire on social media over advertisements it ran for three-month long unpaid internships.

Sydney-based business Netstripes posted three internship positions on jobs website Indeed a month ago, seeking Design, Events and Accounts, and Videographer interns to help “grow our start-up business”.

Each advertisement was for a three-month position, either three days per week or full-time, and required applicants to have a Bachelor’s degree qualification, at a minimum, and at least one year of relevant experience.

Tasks outlined in the Events and Accounts internship include being responsible for “maintaining our current events activities”, including “managing events, communication to stakeholders, managing bills and receipts, and more”.

Each advertised position was to be unpaid, with the company saying it would provide a monthly travel and lunch allowance of $300-500.

However, the advertisements have since been taken down, after multiple people drew attention to them on Twitter yesterday.

Twitter users called out the company for the requirements of the roles, and called upon the company to “pay your interns”.

“Hello @netStripes parasites. If you can’t pay people for work and expertise, you’re not a startup: you’re a shutdown,” said one user.

Some of the Twitter posts included links to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s guidelines on unpaid internships, which outline that non-vocational unpaid internships are potentially unlawful.

“Unpaid work experience, job placements and internships that are not vocational placements will be unlawful if the person is in an employment relationship with the business or organisation they are doing the work for,” the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website states.

“If the person is doing work to help with the ordinary operation of the business or organisation it may be an employment relationship arises. The more productive work that’s involved (rather than just observation, learning, training or skill development), the more likely it is that the person’s an employee.”

The details of both the design and events internships outline the applicant will “work and learn” in certain areas, while the videographer position calls for applicants who can take the “job” seriously.

The advertisements have even been brought to the attention of Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James, who said on Twitter her office would “take a look”.

In a statement to SmartCompany, a spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed the matter was being looked into.

“This matter has been referred to the relevant FWO operations team and further inquiries are being made. As such, it is inappropriate to provide further comment at this time,” the spokesperson said.

When SmartCompany contacted Netstripes for comment, it was told the business was “looking into” the matter and was referred to a recent tweet posted by the company.

The tweet reads: “Thanks for the feedback. We will certainly assess the situation immediately.”

Netstripes says on its website that it has been appointed by the NSW Government to provide specialist services for its Business Connect program, an advisory and training program for SMEs in NSW. It describes its Business Connect services as “highly subsidised” by the New South Wales government.

“NetStripes has been appointed by the NSW Government to provide specialist services on Digital Readiness and Innovation for the “Business Connect” program,” the website reads.

A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Industry told SmartCompany it was investigating the situation.

“The NSW Department of Industry takes seriously any complaints or issues connected with organisations contracted to deliver services on its behalf. We appreciate the inquiry and will investigate,” the spokesperson said.

Businesses advised to be wary of internship conditions

Last year energy drink company Reize also copped heat online after posting a ad for an intern to work over 200 hours.

At the time, employment lawyer Peter Vitale told SmartCompany SMEs should be careful when issuing job applications for internship positions and ensure the role does not fall within the boundaries of employment.

“What needs to be determined is whether or not the relationship is properly contracted as employment or not,” Vitale said.

“If the nature of the relationship is one where the person is there to learn or observe, it is indicative of an internship.”

In June last year, media company AIMB BQ was fined $270,000 for incorrectly paying interns.

At the time, Vitale noted businesses offering internships that require workers to attend the job on regular and fixed hours should consider classing these roles as “employees” rather than interns.

“There is a difference between expecting an intern to provide work and productivity towards the business and being there to watch and learn,” he said.

“Expecting someone to come in on fixed hours is approaching the requirements for an employment relationship, interns should be free to come and go as they please.”

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