Tech boss slams lazy Aussie interns
THE boss of an IT firm accused of using a small army of unpaid interns to build his websites has pulled the plug on the scheme and hit back at lazy Aussies who would "rather work at Bunnings" than put in the hard yards to advance their career.
Samran Habib, founder of DFSM Consulting, vehemently denied any wrongdoing after concerns raised by intern Anastasiya Tsymay, who believed work performed by the group should come with a salary.
Twenty-six young people were part-way through a three-month placement with the web development company, which has offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, San Francisco and Pakistan, when it was cancelled late last month.
According to Ms Tsymay, they were tasked with building websites and doing other unsupervised work. "I'm the leader of my team, helping organise everything," the 19-year-old Melbourne woman said prior to the program being cancelled.
"What we're doing should be paid. We're not really assisting an employee, we're doing an entire project, pretty much starting a new business. It's a lot of website design work, we have to design the whole website ourselves, do all of the market research, it's just so much work."
She said the interns, aged between 19-25, were a mix of digital marketing, design, film and media students and graduates. Split into a number of smaller groups, each working on a different project, they attended the office once or twice a week and were expected to work remotely up to 25 hours per week.
The project her team was working on, a comparison website, was listed on Mr Habib's LinkedIn profile under "companies/platforms either under launch or development stage".
"It's a real thing," Ms Tsymay said. "He puts so much pressure on us every week, he just says you're not doing a good job."
She described it as "demotivating". "We're only interns, we're not supposed to be expected to do so much work and it's all unpaid," she said.
"It's really unfair. I've spoken to my team and they're all very frustrated and discouraged. They think it's unfair how he's putting so much pressure and expecting so much work from us for free."
She said Mr Habib promised a job at the end of the three months for "only the best candidates who I've seen the best performance from". "To be honest I'm not even interested," she said. "I don't want to work for a boss like that."
Ms Tsymay, who is part-way through a diploma in marketing communications, said it "would be good if he could pay us".
"We've done so much work for him," she said. "Just the fact he's put so much pressure on us and made us feel like we're not doing a good job."
Ms Tsymay said she "honestly didn't know that you have to be paid for certain work" until she described what she was doing during a job interview.
'THEY DON'T APPRECIATE IT'
After being contacted for comment, Mr Habib emailed the interns to let them know he was "disappointed" and that the program was being cancelled, but offered to provide letters of experience and act as a reference for everyone who had participated.
Mr Habib denied exploiting anyone or benefiting from their work, saying it was "draining a lot of my time and energy" to train them. He said the projects they were working on were "redundant projects".
"I was not making them anymore," he said. "I said, 'I'll give them a try, give (the interns) a chance to make them live, to see if the project works. If they are able to get through the project I'll hire them'. This was the aim."
Mr Habib had already built a comparison engine back-end, with the interns tasked with creating the front-end website and researching the categories.
"I thought we could launch four or five sites and see how they go," he said.
"We wanted to create real-live examples, commercial ideas, so if I don't hire you your potential employers can see your idea launched and (you) can say, 'This and this are my contribution'."
Mr Habib, who came to Australia from Pakistan in 2014, said he started the internship program to give something back to the community and help tackle youth unemployment.
He said the interns were given laptops, logins, workspaces and office keys and there was "no compulsion" to work a set number of hours per week.
"I'm not getting any commercial benefit, it's for their own good. If they think I'm exploiting them I should draw a line, let them know it's not a good way to pay someone back who is giving you a favour," Mr Habib said.
If the interns felt their work was "so valuable" that it deserved payment, he said, they should have come to him directly and he would have considered it.
But he described the quality as "sub-optimal, very basic" and only "coming almost closer to average" after he spent eight weeks training them.
"Some of them were immature and very childish, others were very mature and eager, (but) no one was giving them entry into the industry," Mr Habib said.
"There are people with master's (degrees) delivering pizza. I came here in 2014 with $1500 in my pocket. I made a success story through hard work, a lot of experience and knowledge. (I thought) this is the time to give back to Australia, to do something good for these youths."
He said now he would simply send the jobs offshore. "I was getting it done five times cheaper in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, I'll do the same now," he said.
"I'll put a hold on this program. I don't have any incentive to give Australians the job if they don't appreciate it. These Aussies would rather work in a warehouse, a bar, a restaurant, or a Bunnings than do hard work, learn some skills and do some unpaid internships to advance their career."
Mr Habib said his only criteria for the internship program was they had to be Australian citizens in the final year of their studies. "I conducted 65 interviews in two days, sitting for 12 hours," he said. "Why would I waste my time and energy?"
Asked if he thought they were ungrateful, he said, "I don't expect them to be grateful, but I expect them to be fair. See what you are getting versus what they are giving."
WHEN SHOULD INTERNS BE PAID?
Graham Wynn, the recruiter who interviewed Ms Tsymay last month, argued that under the rules of internships, what DFSM Consulting was doing was wrong.
"If you can get away with it, it's brilliant," he said.
The founder of boutique HR firm Superior People Recruitment was chatting to Ms Tsymay and "she was outlining what her current role was". "It transpired she was doing an unpaid internship," he said.
"I grilled her on what she was doing there to see what sort of exposure she was having in IT and marketing. She was doing a proper, stand-alone job, building websites, and there are about 25 to 30 people there doing the same."
While the Fair Work Ombudsman assesses such relationships on a case-by-case basis, it outlines a number of indicators to help determine whether an unpaid internship was unlawful.
"The person who's doing the work should get the main benefit from the arrangement," the watchdog says. "If a business or organisation is getting the main benefit from engaging the person and their work, it's more likely the person is an employee."
Earlier this year, Brisbane labour hire company Workforce Solutions was taken to court by Fair Work for allegedly charging clients $15 an hour for work performed by young people on unpaid "work experience".
In 2015, Melbourne media firm CrocMedia was fined $24,000 by the Federal Circuit Court over an illegal unpaid work arrangement involving two employees.
Mr Wynn said the "simple rule" was that if the intern was assisting somebody or the task they were performing had "no immediate benefit to the employer", it could be unpaid.
"But if what you're doing is of direct benefit to the employer you should be paid," he said. "That's where the line is grey. Unfortunately a lot of young people don't know the rules. This goes on quite a lot. I just get frustrated when I see people being abused."