Placement should be paid, Unions NSW says
The Sector > Quality > Professional development > Unions NSW wants placements to be paid, warning of shortages continuing without help

Unions NSW wants placements to be paid, warning of shortages continuing without help

by Freya Lucas

June 06, 2023

Students studying in sectors with high placement demands, such as early childhood teaching, social work and primary school teaching, are suffering because of long blocks of placement without an opportunity to earn an income, Unions NSW has said. 


The peak body has calculated the number of hours students must spend on vocational training against the national minimum wage, revealing that social work and teaching students are carrying a burden of up to $21,000 to complete mandatory internships, something which the Union says is unsustainable given the challenges these sectors face in attracting the workers they need. 


UNSW social work students protested last week, demanding that peak social work and teaching bodies ban the use of unpaid internships.

“My rent was recently raised by $160 a fortnight. This has put me in rent insecurity, financial distress and sitting well below the poverty line for my placement,” said third-year UNSW social work student and Students Against Placement Poverty spokesperson Isaac Wattenberg.


“This story is replicated again and again among my fellow students. It is not sustainable.”

“There are about 15,000 social worker jobs on Seek right now and more than 18,000 for teachers. We desperately need people in these key industries (sic.),” said Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey.


Currently hosting agencies are blocked from paying those completing placement hours, because accepting payment for hours worked would render the hours part of an employment contract not a vocational placement, meaning the hours would not go towards accreditation.

Mr Morey labelled the situation “perverse” and pointed to an Australian Council of Heads of Schools of Social Work survey of 700 students, of whom nearly 80 per cent reported adverse mental health effects from the financial pressure.


Unions NSW believe that paying each student the national minimum wage for the duration of their placements would attract more students, reduce burnout and boost retention. Citing recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data, Mr Morey said there is “a worrying drop” in the completion rate for teaching degrees.


In the six-year period ending 2011, the completion rate was 70 per cent. But the six-year completion rate for 2021 had fallen to 53 per cent. The completion rate for social work students fell by 8 per cent over the same time frame, from 58 per cent between 2005-11 to 50 per cent between 2016-21.

“The essential worker shortage crisis starts with unpaid internships,” Mr Morey said.

Students Against Placement Poverty (SAPP) will host a launch event on Wednesday June 7 at 6pm at Sydney University’s John Woolley Building. Speakers include Senator Mehreen Faruqi and SAPP Co-Founder Isaac Wattenberg.

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