PHD student on scholarship found not to be a ‘worker’

Galal v University of New South Wales [2020] NSWWCC 275

The Applicant sought weekly compensation after sustaining an injury on 9 May 2018 whilst holding a place in the Respondent’s PhD program.

The Respondent denied the claim under Section 4 of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (the 1987 Act) on the basis that she was not a worker or deemed worker under Clause 2 of Schedule 1 of the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 (the 1998 Act).

Arbitrator Ross Bell heard the matter in the Workers Compensation Commission. The Applicant submitted that her relationship with the university was one of worker and employer therefore she was entitled compensation for her injury sustained on 9 May 2018. The Respondent submitted that the Applicant was a student and not a worker and was therefore not entitled to compensation under the 1987 Act.

Determination / Reasons

The Applicant relied upon the indicia discussed in Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Company Pty Ltd [1986] HCA 1 (Stevens) for determining whether someone is a worker. She submitted that there only requires an element of control and direction. The Respondent submitted that there was no contract of service between themselves and the Applicant; she was a student and not a worker.

The Respondent noted there was a contract for enrolment in which they paid the Applicant a scholarship to defray the costs of tuition and a stipend to cover living costs while studying.

Arbitrator Bell determined that in order in order to determine employment the following elements would need to be established:

  1. There must be an identifiable employment contract.
  2. The contract must involve work done by a person under a contractual obligation to another party to whom the person delivers the work and skill of the ‘worker’.
  3. There must be mutual intention to create legal relations.
  4. There must be consideration in the form of a wage or remuneration in return for doing the work.
  5. There must be the creation of an obligation on one party to provide work which is then undertaken by the other party.

Arbitrator Bell determined that the ‘worker’ indicia as discussed in Stevens did not assist in this case as they were not relevant to the true nature of the relationship. Arbitrator Bell determined that the control element relied on by the Applicant was not consistent with a work situation as it was not control in the sense of paid work as part of a contract of service.

In relation to the payment of the stipend to the Applicant, Arbitrator Bell noted that even though the payment was made fortnightly it did not make it a wage in return for service. It was simply a way to transfer scholarship monies to the Applicant as a recipient student as she studied.

Arbitrator Bell determined that the Applicant failed to establish the elements of employment and therefore did not discharge the onus of proof to establish that she was a worker for the purposes of Section 4 of the 1987 Act or a deemed worker for the purposes of Schedule 1 of the 1998 Act at the time of her injury.

Due to the Applicant failing to establish that she was a worker, Arbitrator Bell determined in favour of the Respondent.


This case confirmed that in order to determine whether someone is a worker for the purposes of the 1987 and 1998 Acts, a clear employment contract must be established. The payment of scholarship money or control and direction over work in the context of student activity and progress does not indicate an employment contract.

Should you have any questions about a particular workers compensation matter, please telephone our workers compensation team on either (02) 4929 9333 or (02) 8297 5900.