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Unpaid work

Last updated December 2023

This chapter explains the legal obligations and protections associated with volunteers and vocational placements.

What is unpaid work?

There are two types of work that may be unpaid:

  • volunteer; and
  • vocational placements.
Remember: The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act), which provides minimum wage obligations, entitlements, rights and protections for employees, only applies when an employment relationship exists. Unpaid work arrangements do not give rise to employment relationships.

Case Law: Bannister v Albany Community Legal Service (2018)

In Bannister v Albany Community Legal Service (2018), the Fair Work Commission (FWC) confirmed that volunteers are not counted as employees for the purpose of determining the size of a business in an unfair dismissal claim. The FWC confirmed the three volunteers were not employees because:

  • the workers were not obliged or required to attend work;
  • each undertook work on a voluntary basis without an expectation of payment;
  • there was no evidence of an intention to create a legally binding employment relationship; and
  • the business was a not-for-profit legal centre.


Definition: Volunteer

A volunteer is a person who works for an organisation without payment or financial reward, even if they receive money for some out-of-pocket expenses, e.g. travel allowances.

Case Law: Bergman v Broken Hill Musicians Club Ltd T/A Broken Hill Musicians Club (2011)

In Bergman v Broken Hill Musicians Club Ltd T/A Broken Hill Musicians Club (2011), a volunteer was described as someone under an arrangement motivated by altruism. Those commitments shared between the two parties are generally considered moral in nature rather than legal in nature.