If you have been approached by a student who wants to complete a vocational placement at your organisation, it is important to understand what your obligations are. Vocational placements are mostly unpaid, and this article goes through the requirements that need to be met under the Fair Work Act 2009 for unpaid work to be lawful.

What is a vocational placement?

Some students are required to undertake work experience as part of their educational or training course. They have the opportunity to work in a professional setting and are exposed to the situations that arise in the industry.

It is a mutually-beneficial relationship, as the students learn skills to prepare them, and firms can participate in the development of students and get them ready for work.

‘Lawfully unpaid’

It is not unlawful to take someone on for their vocational placement and not pay them. The Fair Work Act allows for vocational placements to be unpaid roles. The reason for this is that the students are not considered employees and so they are not entitled to minimum wage or any other entitlements the Fair Work Act provides.

Many requirements must be satisfied for the vocational placement to be lawfully unpaid. All of these requirements must be met under the Fair Work Act.

The placement

There must be a placement where the student is required to undertake a particular period of work. It may be that the school or institution arranges the placement for the student or the student may contact businesses and initiate their own placement.

Requirement to undertake placement

The educational or training institution must require the student to participate in the placement as part of their training. This could be a compulsory subject or an elective subject, but it must be a required component of the course that they are taking.

Entitlement to pay

One critical factor is that the student should not be entitled to payment. If there is a contract between the student and workplace that entitles the student to a payment in return for the work they perform, it constitutes an employment relationship and is no longer a vocational placement.

Where work placements fall under industrial awards or agreements, these are also not vocational placements.


The student must be studying at an institution that is approved and authorised under the Commonwealth or an Australian state or territory. This could include courses offered at universities, TAFE colleges and schools.

If these four requirements are met, the host business or organisation is not required to pay the student. However, there is no prohibition for the host organisation to provide payment to the student if they choose to do so.


If you are planning to take a student on vocational placement without paying them, make sure the four requirements are met under the Fair Work Act. If you need employment advice on whether or not you are required to pay your staff, call LegalVision on 1300 544 755. Our employment lawyers are ready to assist.

Dhanu Eliezer
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