Underpaid writer exploitation

pay peanuts

Writers and transcribers are being exploited at an all time high, according to Australia’s Community and Public Sector Union. 10 years ago, an experienced journalist could get a $1 a word. Now it’s less than 5 cents, if that.

Unpaid internships have sadly become the norm for students at university. Junior Journalists in their first few years out of university are likewise working like dogs and getting paid nothing for their efforts. Not many people can work for free unless they have the luxury of living at home.

Just last year, Journalist Tracey Spicer of the Channel 10 network was asked by ANZ to write a 1000 word piece on women’s financial empowerment. The shock was when Spicer found out she would be remunerated just 14 cents per word. This is highly illegal practice, especially for such a prominent media personality.

Thankfully, Spicer used her profile to raise the larger issue of rates the exploitation of high calibre writers who are receiving literally peanuts. Mamamia came under scrutiny for their ‘revolving door’ style approach to interns. Workers were made to believe they would receive a paid job at the end of the internship and that their articles would be published. Instead, interns were given menial tasks that had nothing to do with the internship like coffee runs etc.

Piece rates are becoming more of a common paying system, one which The Fair Work Ombudsmen defines as, “Employees getting paid by the piece and quantity produced”.  Speaking of which, Australia’s public broadcaster the ABC has made headlines for the questionable “piece rates” paid to casual transcribers. Some earned as little as $14 an hour.

Community and Public Sector Union investigated this major concern for the company Caption It, a prominent Australian TV live-captioning contractor. Earlier this year, a group of casual writers were laid off as they demanded better pay beyond the $3.75. This is well below the minimum pay wage and the workers had every right to ask for a rise. 

Something needs to seriously change and young people need to understand their rights at work. It is only an unpaid internship within the time frame of three months. After such time, you should not keep doing pro-bono work.


Scarlett is a recent journalism graduate interested in writing, human resource management and workplace culture. When she isn't being a nerd, she enjoys singing, reading and seeing friends.

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