Steps international students can take to overcome workplace exploitation

WORKPLACE exploitation is an ongoing problem for many international students but there are several steps students can take to ensure their work rights are being met. Trinity College Foundation Studies students Huiqing Hu, Grace Ren and Gilbert Liu consult Trinity’s Careers and Further Studies Coordinator Kelly Owen Mann for advice on how students can improve their situation. 


After 18 hours of work, one Trinity student received a total of $216 – that’s $12 for every hour worked. Photo: Huiqing Hu

It’s no secret that international students are among those most affected by exploitation from shady employers.

Often put to work under poor conditions or severely underpaid for their efforts, many are unsure as to how they can better improve their situation. Some are even unaware that they’re being treated poorly.

International students at the foundation level are no different. At Trinity College Foundation Studies, some of its students are either working in a poor state or aren’t being paid the legally accepted minimum in wages.

Related story: Fair Work Ombudsman to target workplace exploitation of int’l students in new social media campaign

The average estimated pay rate among TCFS students we spoke to was $9.70 per hour – almost half of the legal minimum wage. One student revealed she was paid only $216 after working for 18 hours, essentially receiving $12 per hour.

TCFS Careers and Further Studies Coordinator, Kelly Owen Mann, says there are more than 20 per cent of students at the college who work part-time and are being underpaid.

To combat this, Ms Mann had some advice for students who may be exploited and wish to improve their working conditions.

Photo: Jinyuan Ren

Kelly Owen Mann, Careers and Further Studies Coordinator at Trinity offers her advice to students wanting to combat exploitation at the workplace. Photo: Grace Ren

Know how much you should be getting paid

Ms Mann explains that the wage rate is generally determined by a students’ job status (full-time, casual or part-time) and age.

One resource Ms Mann recommends students access to better understand what they should be getting paid is Payscale, a website that collects research and data to determine how much you’re worth and how much a business ought to be paying you.

Speak up or ask for help

Students should not hesitate to ask about their working conditions. When you speak to your employer, you have every right to know exactly what you’re being paid, how you’re being paid and the amount of hours you’ll be working. These questions and others should not affect your employment so don’t be fearful of speaking up!

If you do feel like you’re being slighted at work, there are also plenty of places to talk about this. The Careers Office at Trinity College, for example, is one such place students can visit to gain advice and support.

Alternatively, there are also workshops available that you can attend to learn more about your work rights.

Identify your employer’s tricks

There are usually some telltale signs that pop up when students are being exploited by their employers. Ms Mann suggests that students pick up on the underhanded tricks employers use to take advantage of international students such as:

  • Paying students cash in hand without providing proof of payment: Without a proper payslip, this means employers can get away with not having you on record as staff. This means if you were to suffer a workplace accident or were harmed in any way while at work, employers can deny that you ever worked for them.
  • Paying employees less due to nationality or gender: Discrimination should not be tolerated in the workplace. Employers should not be paying you at a different rate compared to your fellow staff. If you feel your pay is being withheld as a result of  your nationality or gender, speak to someone immediately.

Employers and employees seeking advice or assistance should visit the Fair Work website or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is available by calling 13 14 50. Information to assist people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds has been translated into 27 languages, with fact sheets tailored to overseas workers and international students. YouTube videos in 14 languages are also available to assist overseas workers understand their workplace rights in Australia. You can follow Fair Work on Facebook and Twitter, as well as Fair Work Ombudsman’s Natalie James (@NatJamesFWO).

This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via

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Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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