Social worker students need to be paid for placement work

April 15, 2024
Social work students face particular difficulties having to do unpaid work in the cost-of-living crisis. Photo: Australian Services Union/Facebook

Social worker students are struggling to complete the required 1000 hours of unpaid placement work and want the unpaid scheme ended.

The Australian Services Union (ASU), with other unions, is leading a campaign to pressure the federal government to provide funding.

The union said the system “forces students into a corner, choosing between their education and their livelihood”. It said it was contributing to “a drop-out rate where more than 20% of Community Service degree students leave their studies due to financial stress”.

A rally in Gadigal/Sydney on April 12 marked the beginning of a national week of action to raise awareness of the dire circumstances facing these students in a cost-of-living crisis.

Social worker students are currently expected to complete extensive placement hours without compensation. Many are forced to drop the course because they cannot survive without income.

The ASU is calling on federal Labor to provide just $90 million a year to ensure students receive an hourly wage of $23.23, along with superannuation and full workers’ rights.

“The current system is unsustainable and unjust,” an ASU spokesperson told the rally. “No student should have to choose between pursuing their passion for social work and facing homelessness.”

By providing fair compensation for placement work, the government has the opportunity to invest in the future of social work while ensuring the well-being of its students.

The plight of these students highlights systemic problems across education and social service sectors.

The union also wants federal funding for organisations that host student placements and employment relationships between organisations and students, paving clearer pathways to meaningful careers.

The union said it understood that “work placements form the backbone of practical learning” for many degrees, “demanding up to 1000 hours of unpaid work for Community Services degrees, are not just unfair — they're unsustainable”.

The ball now lies in federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ court to allocate the necessary funding for equitable treatment for social worker students in the next federal budget.

[Sign the Australian Services Union petition urging education minister Jason Clare to end compulsory unpaid placements for social work students.]

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