Recruitment & Hiring

Energy drink company raises eyebrows with search for unpaid intern to work 200+ hours

Dominic Powell /

A job ad for an unpaid intern at an Australian energy drink company has once again highlighted the gray area of internships in Australia’s workplace relations system.

Reize Energy Drink is hoping to attract PR hopefuls to help with its “Deadpan Guy” marketing campaign through the LinkedIn ad, which Mumbrella said raised its “exploitation alarm”.

The intern would be required to work for minimum 30-hour weeks for a period of two “hectic” months.

“We would ideally like to find someone who is able to commit to working something close to a full time week for around 2 months,” says the advertisement.

“You’ll also be encouraged and welcomed to work alongside the owners of the company and the star of the campaign in our little campaign ‘bunker’.”

The intern would be expected to engage with celebrities, social media influencers, and everyday fans in order to promote the campaign. The intern would work through lists of these people and “contacting them, handling the discussion and sending them whatever creative we decide will work best”, the company said.

“You’ll also be heavily involved in writing and distributing press releases and hitting the phones and the emails to follow up with journalists to try to amplify the stories through all kinds of media,” said Reize.

Employment lawyer Peter Vitale told SmartCompany businesses need to be careful when advertising unpaid internships and ensure the position don’t fall into the realms of paid employment.

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

However, Vitale warns issues surrounding unpaid internships can be unclear, saying, “the one thing that is clear is that there is no clear cut answer”.

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides guidelines for businesses on its website for both internships and work experience placements, and outlines a number of areas to consider when identifying someone as an intern or employee.

One important area is the length of time worked, where the Ombudsman says, “the longer the period of the arrangement, the more likely the person is an employee”.

Another area is what the person will be doing as part of their role, with the Ombudsman indicating “they’re less likely to be an employee if they aren’t expected or required to come to work or do productive activities”.

Part of Reize’s post indicates the intern would be required to work for “at least 30 hours per week for 2 months,” which is why Vitale believes the position is “more like an employment relationship”.

“A true internship would enable the intern to choose whether or not to attend,” Vitale says.

A key part of work experience and internships is the person doing the work should benefit more than the business the work is done for. According to the Ombudman’s guidelines, “if a business or organisation benefits from engaging the person, it’s more likely the person is an employee.”

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

At the end of its advertisement, Reize said the time spent working with the company cannot be used as credit for any university or vocational courses undertaken by the intern. It does note however, that the worker “will get great experience, be able to list it on your CV and we’ll give you a glowing referral if you are a superstar!”

Vitale believes these matters often arise from a “matter of ignorance mixed with recklessness”, and there are many examples of employers that have been found to be taking advantage of people they describe as interns.

“The fact that they’re saying it can’t [be used for credit] is indicative that it is not intended as a learning exercise,” he says of the Reize position.

SmartCompany contacted Reize and was told by co-founder Marty Spargo that the company was not aware of the LinkedIn advertisement, claiming it had only posted it to the jobs board on Pedestrian.TV.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is a journalist at SmartCompany and a tech and music geek. When he’s not writing, you can find him reading or browsing record shops.

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  • I think that unpaid internships/work experience positions are fine. Who said they are exploiting anyone. If a kid wants to work in this company let him or her do it. If they would prefer to do paid work elsewhere, also their choice. Whatever happened to freedom to work where and how you want. The experience they get here will go well on their CV and it will probably be worth five times in value to two months paid work elsewhere. Internships are a great way for someone to get experience in a type of workplace that they might not be able to get into with paid work.

  • REIZE Energy Drink

    Wow. Fair go guys. We actually thought our internship was a lot more laid back than the ones on offer elsewhere. The ad you’re referring to was intended as a callout to gauge interest, and hopefully find someone who it appealed to, but we are very flexible and easy going. Anyone that wanted to come along for the ride could come and go as they please, no obligations. We are a startup company, just the two of us. We thought it would be a good opportunity for some young students looking for experience.

    The ad you mentioned expired without any takers. Perhaps it was poorly worded as your article suggests. We take responsibility for that.

    What about all the big companies, including our competitors and businesses in almost every other industry? 40hr per week summer internships are commonplace, and I guarantee they aren’t as laid back, flexible or (likely) beneficial to the intern as us. I guess they have lawyers that write their ads for them?

    Anyway, we’ve learnt something from this and after looking into it you may have a point. We have taken down the ads… except the ones on LinkedIn, which we don’t seem to have control over but have expired anyway.

  • Steve Palmer

    As a business owner I worked for years on different projects for next to nothing and employed people who made much more money than me.
    If I didn’t do this I wouldn’t have put myself in the position to learn from failure.
    The real question is will the intern stay on minimum wages or will they use the experience to better themselves. A person who stays on minimum wages will more likely have an entitlement mentality and won’t apply for the position in the first place.