CISA Conference 2015 Day 1: Employment still biggest concern

WHILE the issue of employment remained top of the agenda, student leaders were challenged to work together and mobilise the community for change. That was among the key take home messages from the first day of the CISA Conference. Stephen Clarke reports

Students engaged with industry and university leaders. Photo: Stephen Clarke

Students engaged with industry and university leaders. Photo: Stephen Clarke

The representative body for international students, the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), kicked off its fifth annual conference today with a workshop ringing with the themes of leadership, lobbying and student empowerment.

On the first of the three-day event, some 250 students from universities across Australia descended on the Arrow on Swanston venue in Carlton.

Employment and workplace rights

By far the most popular event of the day was the ‘Student Rights and Advocacy’ workshop, aimed at equipping international students with a stronger knowledge of their rights in the Australian workplace. The aim of the the workshop was to give students the opportunity to learn more about current Australian policies on workplace rights.

Running the workshop was assistant director of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Overseas Workers Team, Brodie Smith, and educational consultant for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Jenny Jackson.

They fielded questions left, right and centre from the student body on a wide range of topics such as low wages, questionable working hours, unpaid internships and the dangers of reporting unfair employers.

Student delegates shared their trials and tribulations in seeking fair pay and employment while studying. Some students reported being paid as little as $10 per hour, whilst others told of friends who were too scared to report their low wages for fear of being fired.

Even after the workshop’s end, Ms Smith and Ms Jackson were plied with questions from concerned students.

Some of the students expressed a strong interest in where they could obtain further information on the issue and how they could go about handling situations where they are potentially being exploited.

The high level of interest and concern around the issue of employment discrimination echoed last year’s complaints about the difficulty international students faced in finding part-time employment to complement their study.

Leadership and lobbying

With the CISA elections this Thursday, the topic of leadership was another hot topic of discussion at the conference.

Addressing delegates at a workshop on the prospect of leadership and self-empowerment, director of Longboard Coaching and Consulting Barbara Hapgood, who specialises in mentoring students and preparing them for the workplace, told students they needed “to identify [their] strengths in order to become good leaders”.

Returning speaker and Monash University’s multicultural employment consultant Danny Ong, spoke passionately about the need for students to look at the issue as something that could be overcome, and related to his own struggles as a former international student.

Former education minister and current chief executive of International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) Phil Honeywood, said students needed to focus on working together as a group who have the interests of nearly half a million students and hold considerable lobbying power.

CISA represents around 460,000 international students studying in Australia, who in turn represent a $17 billion slice of the Australian economy.

His words were echoed by IEAA treasurer Monique Skidmore.

“You aren’t mobilising in the way that you could,” she told delegates.

She said they had “very strong allies” in the form of embassies and ambassadors.

“You have to decide what it is that is worth speaking on,” she said.

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