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Discriminated, underpaid

Aun Ngo

Tue May 12 2009

Yi Von Chen

POOR awareness about workplace rights has seen many overseas students settling for less than minimum wage.

According to a report by the Overseas Student Education Experience Taskforce, employers have been profiting from students’ ignorance about minimum wage.

The Taskforce found cases of Australian students receiving $14 for the same amount of work in the same workplace as overseas students, who received a paltry $9 per hour.

National Chairperson of the Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS), Wai Ken Wong, said direct discrimination was an issue in the Australian workplace.

He said the high cost of living in Australia has led to many employed overseas students working in excess of the 20 hour per week limit imposed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).

“Some employers know this and use it to their advantage. They employ students below minimum wage for over 30 to 40 hours a week,” Mr Wong said.

“They are then exploited as they fear being reported to immigration authorities and deported if they seek to enforce their rights.”

Yi Von Chen, 20, a Malaysian overseas student, used to work at a well-known confectioner for just $8 an hour.

“Even then, the pay was consistently delayed and in incorrect amounts. They were clearly hoping I would just let it slide so they wouldn’t have to pay me,” she said.

She is now earning a reasonable $14 an hour at a café on Swanston St.

Mr Wong said the economic downturn has made it even harder for students to speak out.

“In the current economic situation it is tough to secure a job, hence students are afraid to report their unlawful employers due to chances of becoming unemployed,” he said.

In a series of recommendations outlined in the report, the Taskforce called for greater collaboration between the Victorian and State governments to work together to seek equity in pay and conditions for overseas students. The development of a culture that recognizes and protects the rights of overseas students in the workplace was also paramount.

When contacted, the Business Council of Australia declined to comment, citing a lack of knowledge about the report.