By Campbell Smith
I began a placement at the Young Workers Centre as part of the Public Interest Law Practice elective at the beginning of 2016. Based at Trades Hall in Carlton, the Young Workers Centre’s mission is to provide both free legal advice and representation to Victorian workers aged under 30, as well as to educate young people about their rights at work.
Seeing as the centre is a fairly recent initiative, I was one of the first interns at the Centre. The work I undertook as an intern varied from underpaying calculations, to drafting of letters of demand to interviewing clients, and drafting unfair dismissal and general protection applications at the Fair Work Commission.
Having taken Employment and Labour Relations Law in 2015, I felt that I had a reasonable grounding of the legal principles that the Centre deals with daily. However, the two days of training before starting the placement still filled many gaps in my knowledge. Despite this, I really enjoyed applying the legal knowledge I had gained through the unit to real life matters and contributing to getting positive outcomes for real clients. For instance, I particularly enjoyed reading through the contracts of two large multinational companies and comparing them to case law, to determine whether they were in breach of the sham contracting provisions of the Fair Work Act.
Doing the placement as a part of the Public Interest Law Practice elective meant that I was able to get more value from my time at the Centre than I would had I done a placement outside of the subject. Through reflective journal assessments, I had to engage actively in the processes and procedures that I was undertaking at the Centre, and intellectualise them. On top of this, the major assignment made me deal critically with what it meant to practice law in the public interest sphere.
At the end of the placement I felt I had learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed my time as an advocate at the Young Workers Centre. I found myself wishing I could spend more time there. As luck would have it, I was offered a part-time job there not long after finishing. The position was a newly created one that I shared with one other former advocate at the Centre. In my role, I act as the team leader for the new law student advocates, and help them navigate things like finding agreements on the Fair Work Commission website, interpreting awards, and proof-reading correspondence and advice.
Aside from the great work the centre does, I also thoroughly enjoy working at Trades Hall with my colleagues every day. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by people who come to work, passionate about making the working lives of young Victorians better, whether it’s by enforcing their legal rights or educating them about minimum wages and award protections. Getting to know other law students from different law schools and working closely with them has been a valuable experience as well, and one that I would not have had if I hadn’t done the Public Interest Law Practice elective!
Overall my time at the Young Workers Centre has not only been enjoyable and rewarding, but it has also given me invaluable skills that I will be able to use throughout my future career.
I would urge any student with an interest in employment law to apply if they are looking for an interesting working environment for their placement.