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Stop student exploitation – Know your work rights

Meld Magazine

Tue Apr 08 2014


FINDING a part-time job can be a challenge – and it’s not the only one you could face in the work place. Knowing what your rights are is extremely important to keep you from being unknowingly exploited. Ernest Lee investigates.


One of the many reasons international students come to Australia is to gain new experiences. Often, that includes looking for part-time work.

If you are looking for or working in a casual or part-time job, it is important to find out what your rights as an employee are because occurrences where employers underpay and exploit their staff are increasingly common and often many cases goes unreported.

Startlingly, statistics from workers’ union United Voice show that 79 per cent of international students said they know little or nothing about their rights at work.

They also found that a quarter of international students receive $10 or less an hour, and 60 per cent earned less than the minimum wage, which is currently $16.37 an hour in Australia. Additionally, 76 per cent of international students did not receive penalties for weekend or night work.

Recently in the news, Mariana Market, Adelaide’s largest Asian grocery store was caught exploiting five international students as reported by the Herald Sun.

The Fair Work Ombudsman revealed that the grocery store on Grote Street underpaid seven staff, including the five international students, a combined total of more than $23,000.

The owner, Mr Khai Khuu was previously warned for keeping poor records and non-payment of wages in November 2012 and was investigated due to more complaints from staff early last year.

Thomson Ch’ng, President of Council of International Students Australia said that the issue of underpaying international students has been around for quite a while.

“It is too common, to the point where everyone thinks that it is alright to be paid at the rate which is clearly below the minimum wage set out in the regulation,” he told Meld.

In Victoria, the Fair Work Ombudsman has accused the owners of the Gloria Jeans franchise in Caulfield East for underpaying their employees, many of whom were international students.

In many instances, international students deter from proper jobs and would rather be underpaid because of restrictions in their visas or they have a poor command of the English language and do not fully understand their rights.

Mr Ch’ng said that international students should not compromise being exploited by employers just because their English skills may be limited.

“There needs to be more investment into support systems to assist them (international students) and empower them to stand up against exploitation,” he said.

There have also been incidents where some employers hire employees as independent contractors to avoid paying them the minimum wage.

This is called ‘sham contracting’ and it is against the law.

An international student, who did not wish to be named, told Meld his account on doing trial work for a large supermarket in Melbourne.

He was not paid for the trial work he completed and subsequently was not hired by the supermarket.

However, he did not feel cheated and instead took it as a learning experience because he was not aware of his working rights and did not know that unpaid trial work is illegal.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman website, it states that no trial work should be unpaid.

Prior to finding work, international students need to protect themselves from such exploitations by first finding out information regarding their rights. If you are unsure, bring your questions to your university’s career office.

Information can also be easily found online on Fair Work Ombudsman’s website regarding everything you need to know about working in Australia.

If you feel that you have been a victim of such exploitation by an employer, do not hesitate to contact Fair Work Ombudsman immediately.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has also recently established an Overseas Workers’ Team. A free interpreter service for those from non-English speaking backgrounds is available by calling 13 14 50 and information about workplace laws is translated into 27 different languages at

You can also follow the Fair Work Ombudsman on Twitter or Facebook for further information.

Have you experienced workplace exploitation, or know of someone who has? Share your story with us in the comments section below.