In June this year, Rashifa Aljunied, 24, a university student (soon-to-be intern, as she was then) made headlines when she advocated for paid internships by strolling the streets of Kuala Lumpur with her placard reading ‘Intern Bukan Buruh Percuma’.

As an introduction, internships provide opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience and adapt to real-life scenarios before they enter the workforce. However, many interns and employers may not be fully aware of the legal status of an intern. Does an intern have any legal rights against the employers? Are they legally protected during the internship period? Some employers were unwilling to offer an internship position as they were baffled by the legal status of an intern. Hence, this article aims to shed light on the rights of interns in Malaysia if any, and the available legal frameworks that exist to protect them – So if you are interested or are required to do an internship, you should read this before you start your journey!

Internship vs Apprenticeship

Firstly, let’s define what an intern is. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an intern is defined as “an advanced student or graduate usually in a professional field gaining supervised practical experience”. As to the reason why a person decides to undergo an internship – it depends! Some may be interested in interning due to their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and to have a glimpse of a particular industry,  while some may be “forced” to undergo an internship as part of the compulsory requirement of their courses at the University (haha!)

Internship or apprenticeship has been used interchangeably throughout history. Question: Are they the same? The distinction is important as both terms carry different implications. To date, interns are not legally protected under any statutory provisions or laws in Malaysia, thus, limiting the extent of the rights of an “intern”. On the other hand, an apprenticeship is provided under the Employment Act 1955. The Employment Act 1955 is an act that governs the relationship between an employer and its worker.

Based on the Act, “apprenticeship contracts” is defined as:

“a written contract entered into by a person with an employer who undertakes to employ the person and train or have him trained systematically for a trade for a specified period which shall not be less than two years in the course of which the apprentice is bound to work in the employer’s service;”

Based on the above, an apprenticeship contract is regarded as a contract of service under the Employment Act 1955, however, the apprenticeship contract must subsist for a period not less than two years. The downside of the interpretation under the Act is that anyone who is undergoing placement below 2 years is not legally protected under the Employment Act 1955. This interpretation left many interns in a vulnerable and precarious position to no avail.

How then can I protect my rights as an intern?

As mentioned before, currently, there is no statutory provision or legislation that legally protects interns. However, you can seek your remedy under the Contracts Act 1950, provided that you have a legally valid contract per section 10 of the Contracts Act 1950. For a contract to be valid, it has to be made by competent parties to contract with  (i) free consent, (ii) with a lawful consideration, AND (iii) with a lawful object.

Here are some important terms that you may include in the internship contract:

  1. Term/period of employment
  2. Working hours
  3. The allowance provided
  4. Clear job expectations
  5. Other benefits, etc

All the best in your internship journey!

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute any legal advice. If you have any questions, please contact us directly.