A Melbourne man is chasing thousands of dollars in lost wages after he worked unpaid overtime for a business signed up to the government's flagship internship program for youth on welfare.
In its 2016 federal budget, the government introduced the controversial scheme in which young people could voluntarily earn $200 a fortnight — or $4 an hour, as identified by BuzzFeed News — on top of their current welfare payments, for the duration of a four-to-12 week internship.
Under the Youth Jobs PaTH policy, businesses receive an upfront $1,000 payment from the government for taking on the intern, who works for a maximum of 50 hours a fortnight.
David, who asked BuzzFeed News not to use his last name, began his internship hoping he would learn new skills and potentially land himself a full-time job in hospitality.
But the 23-year-old Victorian is now chasing thousands of dollars in lost wages.
David started his PaTH internship at Espresso Lane coffee chain franchise in Wollert on Melbourne's northern fringe in June.
"I was fairly keen on it and [the franchise's manager] had given me the vibe that I was going to get a job at the end of the internship, so I was working pretty hard to try and impress them," he told BuzzFeed News.
"My understanding was that I would work between 12 and 25 hours a week and that I'd get a $200 bonus to my Newstart allowance fortnightly for an internship that was between four and 12 weeks, and they would provide me with training and hire me as long as I was doing a good job.
"I felt that I was going above and beyond expectations because there were times where I was basically running the cafe, and I also trained other staff."
The conditions of any PaTH internship dictate that the intern must work for a minimum of 30 hours and a maximum of 50 hours per fortnight to receive the payment.
However, David's time sheets show that he was working well beyond the maximum 50 hours a fortnight.
"From the first week they didn't even have a roster, they were just calling me in when they wanted me, and I was there from open [5am] to close [5pm] for most of it," he said.
"There were a few weeks where I'd worked 50 hours just for a single week."
This time sheet shows David's third week at the cafe, in which he worked 58 hours.
David had a "proper read" of his internship agreement and raised the issue of overtime with his manager.
He said that on three occasions he was offered a $50 Visa gift card for the extra hours of work.
"I said I didn't want the $50 gift card, I either wanted to be on wages, or working to the conditions of the internship."
David said he was concerned that if he challenged his superiors it might jeopardise his existing welfare payment.
"Even though I knew the terms of the internship were getting breached, it reached a point that I was worried that I was going to end up without my Newstart allowance."
Eventually, however, the situation became untenable and he left in late July.
"I looked at the hours I had done and I just thought it was ridiculous and worth more than three $50 gift cards, so I went to my university legal advisory and they put me on to Young Workers Australia."
"We estimate that David is owed over $2,000 for these unpaid hours of work," David's solicitor Keelia Fitzpatrick, from Melbourne's Young Workers Centre, told BuzzFeed News.
She has issued a letter of demand for payment.
"Where David performed work for the company beyond his agreed internship hours, he was an employee of the company, and should be paid the minimum hourly rates for a casual employee under the Fast Food Award."
Fitzpatrick said the PaTH Internship Scheme was a "farce" that provided "no real solution to youth unemployment".
“[It] leaves young workers like David open to exploitation by opportunistic employers who receive a $1,000 bonus from the taxpayer."
The franchisee of Espresso Lane in Wollert admitted that David had not been paid anything for the hours he worked, but said he was "planning" on compensating him.
"My intention is to pay him, and I want him back on my team," Adam Vard told BuzzFeed News.
"His cheque is getting ready."
Vard said the Visa gift cards "were not remuneration" and were just a "token of appreciation".
There were no longer any PaTH interns at the franchise, and Vard said he regretted "being dragged into the program".
BuzzFeed News has contacted employment minister Michaelia Cash for comment.
A spokesperson from the Department of Employment said employers were expected to comply with the "requirements and objectives" of the program.
"Employers sign a PaTH internship agreement which clearly explains that the internship is for a maximum of 50 hours per fortnight," the spokesperson said.
Gina Rushton is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Gina Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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