Nearly 8000 people have signed a petition calling for the end of unpaid student placements.
Second year RMIT student Olivia Armitage created the change.org petition on May 3, urging the Victorian Government to legalise a payment of at least minimum wage for all compulsory educational placements.
Ms Armitage said the ongoing effects of Covid-19 on Victorian students has meant change is needed now more than ever.
She said students were one of the most financially affected groups during the pandemic and that still not receiving any form of payment for completing placements was unethical.
“Expecting students to be financially dependent and give up their paid work while on placements full-time is no longer realistic,” she said.
Many students are still recovering from the financial losses of last year and simply cannot afford to take more time off paid work.
“Bringing in paid placements will remove financial strain from those who are in desperate need of some relief.”
Master of Nursing Science student Krishma Malhotra said that the impacts of Covid-19 on her education were continuing, with her graduate year applications the next victim of the pandemic.
“It is very disheartening, especially considering the added strain last year brought,” Ms Malhotra said.
Battling both unpaid placements and a loss of shifts at my casual job due to lockdown was one of the hardest challenges I’ve had to overcome.
Ms Malhotra said she is very hopeful for the prospect of paid placements.
“Having one less thing to worry about when there is already so much going on when on placement and studying at the same time, especially during a pandemic, would be a lifeline for so many people.”
“Covid-19 has had such a negative impact on so many aspects on people’s lives so, if this is one positive thing it has prompted, then that’s a win for all professional placement students.”
But with many Victorian businesses also suffering financial strains from the pandemic, students aren’t the only ones feeling the burden.
A quarter (24 per cent) of all Australian businesses reduced the total number of staff employed during the Covid-19 crisis, the ABS found in a Business Impacts of Covid-19 study in May 2020.
Businesses may not be in a position to be able to afford the added cost of student placements.
Swinburne Media and Communications Course Coordinator Rob Gill was concerned that requiring businesses to pay students on placement would negatively impact the available opportunities.
“I believe many placement opportunities will disappear for our students if the added expense of contracting students to work becomes law,” he said.
“For many businesses, placements will not be viable if there is such a financial cost to the business.”