Read and sign the open letter initiated by education and social work students campaigning against student poverty on placements.
As students in social work and teaching programs in NSW and across Australia, we are writing to express our concern about the mandatory requirement of unpaid placements in our fields. We believe that unpaid placements not only exploit student labor but also violate the codes of ethics of both social work and teaching professions.
The Australian Association of Social Workers’ (AASW) Code of Ethics states that social workers should maintain “acceptable working conditions” (7.2.6) and that professional relationships between social workers and students on placement should be “constructive and non-exploitative” (9.1.5). Despite these ethical standards, the AASW requires that all social work students in Australia complete 1000 hours of unpaid work, often alongside study and regular employment.
Similarly, the National Professional Standards for Teachers, developed and maintained by NESA, recognise that “a teacher’s effectiveness has a powerful impact on students” and that “improving teacher quality is considered an essential reform” (p. 2). Yet, pre-service teachers are expected to complete between over 500 unpaid hours of mandatory placement in the final years of their degree, alongside study requirements and necessary paid work.
Without fair pay for hours worked, these professional placement arrangements are exploitative and harmful. Unpaid placements also prohibit the decolonisation of social work and teaching professions. This is particularly concerning for Indigenous peoples who have been impacted by the ongoing effects of colonisation, as well as for migrant communities who may face additional language, cultural and especially financial barriers to studying and working in Australia.
Furthermore, requiring students to work hundreds of hours on placement without pay or compensation disproportionately impacts students from marginalised communities who may not have the financial resources to support themselves while working for free (Gibson & Anantharaman, 2018; Lawless & Anderson, 2019). This perpetuates systemic inequalities and undermines efforts to create a more diverse and equitable workforce.
Therefore, we demand that the AASW and NESA take immediate action to ensure pre-service social workers and teachers are fairly remunerated for the hundreds of hours they are required to work as part of mandatory placements in social work and teaching programs. Specifically, we call on you to implement these demands:
Education providers and placement agencies must ensure that social work and teaching students are paid at a rate which is at, or above, minimum wage.
The AASW and NESA must take immediate steps to enforce their codes of ethics, ensuring that their members and affiliates are aware of their obligations to provide fair remuneration for student placements.
Action must be taken to lobby for the increase of Centrelink allowances for students undertaking placement.
Universities provide compensation at a fair and equitable rate for students undertaking mandatory placements where agency remuneration is not available or sufficient to meet the minimum wage.
Sign the open letter here: https://forms.gle/GN41TKfmYxs5YHJY8