I Will Not Work for Free

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At the Robin Boyd Open Day I was speaking to a fellow student at one of the houses, and we soon ended up talking about all-things architecture. The topic of “work experience”, a.k.a “illegal work” came up, and this student was a classic example of what I hear. This student was more than happy to work for free as they’d be getting experience in return. Sounds like a pretty good trade-off yeah? I mean, in order to get that next job, you need experience, so being able to get your foot-in-the-door, even by sacrificing pay, seems reasonable, yeah? No! You may not know this, but it is illegal to work for free in Australia unless it’s in a vocational sense, or you are merely observing the firm at work. So why do so many students and graduates accept unpaid jobs, or even suggest it?

You need experience

I wrote a post a few months back encouraging you all to get some form of experience whilst studying, and with 750-odd architecture students at Deakin University alone, there isn’t enough jobs out there for all of us. You may think 3-6 months of unpaid work is worth it when you will be able to land a paying job because you have some experience? Or perhaps you’re happy to sacrifice 6 months of a salary to work for a prominent firm, which would look great on your CV?

I studied at TAFE prior to attending university, my very first industry-job I was a ‘shop detailer’ for a precast concrete company. Prior to this job I had zero experience, I was only in my second year at TAFE, and my skills were limited, but the boss paid me. It may sound like a crazy notion, but your very first job can result in you getting experience and being paid at the same time. The second job I got, this time with an architecture firm, in my third year of TAFE, guess what? Yep, I was getting paid as well.

You didn’t know it was unpaid

Have you read those online articles that gave you tips for your next interview to land you your dream job? I can only guess if you have, it probably said “Don’t ask about your pay-rate as it is rude” or something along those lines? You may have followed that piece of advice, and you got the job, only then to discover it was unpaid. You can break tradition and ask the employers what your pay-rate will be, and if they are offended or taken aback it’s a good sign they were planning on not paying you. Think about it. A firm that’s happy to pay you should be able to answer with “We’ll check the award-rate for your situation.” and it will never say, $0.00/hr.

SONA last year released information regarding this matter and if you’re 21+ within your first and second year of experience, you should be getting paid $21.08/hr as a casual. As a graduate entering the industry, you should be getting $28.67/hr as a casual. If you are under 21 years of age, within your first 13 weeks of experience your pay should be $10.03/hr as a casual, going up as you gain more experience. While not a huge number, it’s better than $0.00/hr. [click here to see the full table regarding pay rates].

Your boss was unpaid when she/he started out

Unpaid jobs for students and graduates exist because those who are in charge of hiring went through the same struggles when they were starting out. There seems to be this ‘coming of age’ ritual where you need to work for free, because your boss worked for free. Your boss worked for free because their boss worked for free, and so on and so fourth. But why do you want to keep this unsustainable, unhealthy cycle going? Break this cycle, and when you are the boss and there is a student wanting a job with you, you can start a new cycle.

You feel like you can’t offer much

A friend who I have spoken to about this whole-thing, one thing they said was “I just feel as I though I can’t offer them much, so I shouldn’t be paid.” Can you sketch? Make a physical or computer model? Can you use SketchUp, AutoCAD, Revit, ArchiCad or other software? Can you design websites? Can you sort and organise a material and resource library? You may not be able to produce a full-set of working drawings in your second year at university but there is plenty you can offer your employer.

YOU ARE NOT WORTHLESS, YOU ARE WORTH SOMETHING.

What is actually wrong with working for free? Let me put it this way, using myself as the example. If every firm only offered me unpaid jobs, I would have two options. Option A, I quit the profession. Option B, I take out a second job which does pay me, such as McDonalds. Now, why would I quit the profession? I live independently, I have bills, Red Bull, food, petrol, etc to pay for, I can not survive without an income, and while Centrelink is available, 98% of the time it isn’t enough. If I was to get a second job, my life would constantly be unbalanced. Studying, working for free, working at McDonalds, where is the leisure time? And what is probably the worst part about working for free as an architecture graduate or student? You go through five years of university, have $40k-$60k of debt, and a 17-year old McDonalds worker out-earns you. How can you expect to buy a house, support a family, travel the world or enjoy life if you are constantly under or unpaid?

What can we do but? Simple, don’t ask for “work experience” (or unpaid work), and if they offer you a job with below minimum wage, or you know, no wage, don’t accept the job. The only way to change this culture behind not paying students is to remind students you are worth something, and that we won’t accept working for free. It isn’t okay, from a legal standpoint but also ethically. Accepting a job for free isn’t a sign that you’re “passionate about architecture and willing to do anything to get your foot in your door”, it tells me you are desperate, and rightfully so. Remember though, if you do accept an unpaid position, you may get exploited even further. Not only will you not be paid, I’ve heard a few stories where they have worked 10-12 hour days, 5-6 days a week…. All unpaid. How can this be acceptable? This isn’t acceptable! The next amazing architect could be overlooked because they can’t work 72hr weeks for free.

Ask yourself this, why doesn’t that firm want to pay you minimum wage?

This is something I feel strongly about, and anyone who has had this conversation with me will agree. SONA is doing a great job in advocating for students regarding this matter but it’s something that needs to be discussed more. The more we talk about the issue of unpaid work, even if it’s just four friends in the studio, the greater awareness. Students may not even be aware of their rights, so we need to remind each other that unpaid work is just not acceptable. I want to hear from you! Email me [anthony@thatarchitecturestudent.com], send a message to the page on Facebook, leave a comment, tweet me, write something on my Instagram, however you do it, I don’t mind! Have you worked for free? If yes, why did you? If you were exploited, share your experience! If you want to remain anonymous, send me an email and I’ll post on your behalf. Share this post around with your friends, Tweet it, I want students to read this and understand that working for free is not okay, and illegal as well! Use the hashtag #iwillnotworkforfree to help spread the message!

4 thoughts on “I Will Not Work for Free”

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