Phillipa Weeks Lecture in Labour Law - Young people and the future of work

Date & time
5.30–6.30pm Wednesday 12 October 2016

Finkel Lecture Theatre

John Curtin School of Medical Research, Garran Road, The Australian National University

Rosemary Owens AO, University of Adelaide


For interstate visitors, we offer suggestions for accommodation near ANU.

Nicole Harman

Part of the Annual Phillipa Weeks Lecture series

Rosemary Owens AO
PHOTO: Keryn Stevens (

Young people and the future of work: The regulatory challenges of unpaid work at the intersection of education and work

In her scholarly work, Phillipa Weeks always showed a deep appreciation of the necessity of going beyond a narrow conception of law and regulation as a formal body of rules that are created, interpreted and enforced by State agencies. For her it was important to understand law and regulation as they operate in a particular social context, and further to investigate the interplay between law and regulation and their context.  Law and regulation are for ‘real people’ in a ‘real world’. Phillipa Weeks’ insights are now more important than ever before – especially as we contemplate the future world of work and the important task of securing the place of young people in it.

In the current era, understanding the forces of globalisation and technology which, amongst others, are forging a new world of work is critical to creating a future where there is decent work for all. The access of young people to labour markets means they must be equipped with the relevant skills and training to participate in this new world of work. The International Labour Organisation has noted this as a vital matter. Today, transitions from education to the workplace present some of the most complex challenges for policy makers, law enforcement agencies, business, the trade union movement, educational institutions, and the community more broadly.

An important dimension of these challenges is the regulation of the various forms of unpaid work experience, commonly now referred to as ‘internships’, at the boundary between education and work. To date the laws regulating the workplace and protecting those at work have tended to be based on an assumption that the worker is an employee, a concept that has been most fully elaborated in distinguishing between those who work for the business of another and those who work in their own business. But how does the law distinguish those in education from those in work? Are those undertaking internships ‘employees’? And do they, or should they, enjoy the protection of the laws governing workplaces? What is the risk that young people undertaking internships are being exploited? Is the rise of the unpaid intern a threat to decent work standards for all? Or do internships represent a necessary mode of access to the labour market in a changing world of work where flexibility and productivity rather than security are the defining imperatives?

The Phillipa Weeks lecture in 2016 will consider these issues through an examination of the regulation of unpaid work in Australian law, some of the recent developments in other jurisdictions, and in international labour law.

Drinks and canapes to follow from 6.30-7.30pm.


  • Rosemary Owens, AO »

    Rosemary Owens, AO, is Professor Emerita at The University of Adelaide where she was formerly the Dame Roma Mitchell Chair of Law (2008-2015) and Dean of Law (2007-2011). Her research has focused on workplace law, with books including The Law of Work (OUP, 2007 and 2011 – with Joellen Riley and Jill Murray), and most recently a collection of essays, Temporary Labour Migration in the Global Era: The Regulatory Challenges (Hart, 2016 - with Joanna Howe).

    She is currently undertaking an ARC funded Discovery Project examining unpaid work and regulatory challenges at the intersection of education and work (with Andrew Stewart, Anne Hewitt and Joanna Howe).

    Professor Owens is a member of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labour Organization, a UN agency. She is a former editor of the Australian Journal of Labour Law and continues as a member of its Editorial Board and she is also on the Editorial Board of the Revue de Droit Comparé du travail et de la Sécurite Sociale. Professor Owens is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law. In 2014 she was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia for her distinguished service to law, to international and national labour law and relations, and to women.

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