Legal beagles vs. bosses
IS WORK not paying you enough? Have you been discriminated against? Did you get paid for trial or training work? Were you fired from your job for no rhyme or reason?
These were some of the issues that were covered at the legal education session held at The Couch on April 19. The session on employment rights was the second in a series of legal education sessions run by the International Student Legal Advice Clinic (ISLAC). The first covered transport matters.
The interactive and fun session featured a short skit by ISLAC’s community legal education officers and volunteers at The Couch. The skit was set in a jeans factory operated by an unscrupulous owner, and invited students to spot all the illegal breaches that were going on, as part of the education session on employment rights.
To aid students’ learning, the interactive format was combined with an ongoing competition throughout the night, sponsored by the International Student Care Service (ISCS).
Some of the scenarios depicted in the skit included workplace bullying and abuse, safety breaches and unreasonable working hours, and painted a rather disturbing picture of what some international students may be experiencing here in Australia.
Gillian Davy, who is a community legal education worker with ISLAC, said under-rewarded wages and unpaid trial periods were “really, really common” problems international students faced.
But it wasn’t just a lack of awareness of workplace rights that was the issue, Ms Davy said.
“In some cases I think students are aware of their workplace rights but feel unable to exercise them because they’ll be unfairly dismissed, and they need that income. So they take the option of working under-rewarded wages in uncertain conditions, not unknowingly, but because they have to survive,” she said.
“In some cases… students are forced to work in breach of their 20-hour work restrictions… so that automatically puts them in a position where they can’t exercise the workplace rights that the rest of us take for granted, because they’re threatened by their employer that they’ll be reported to the department of immigration.”
But Ms Davy said the most shocking and concerning stories she’s come across have been around workplace accidents.
“Really quite horrendous workplace accidents, where international students are not being informed of their rights and insurance, and not being adequately looked after, after quite debilitating accidents,” she said.
“Employment matters are probably not one of the top legal issues that we deal with, but when they come, they tend to be fairly serious… the cases that we’ve dealt with had been fairly serious breaches at work.”
The next legal information session will cover rental rights, and will be held on Tuesday May 17, from 6 to 8 pm at The Couch.
ISLAC runs every Wednesday night at The Couch (66 Bourke Street) in the city. Students wishing to seek free legal advice are invited to drop in from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm. No appointment is required.
If you are unable to attend ISLAC on Wednesday nights, call 9391 2944 to make an alternative appointment time.
Were you there at The Couch on Tuesday? Check out our Facebook page for more photos.