Australia’s leading international student news website

Student’s story shows there are no easy answers to asserting work rights when there are bills to pay

Rowan Forster

Mon Jun 22 2015


THE Fair Work Ombudsman recently launched a social media campaign aimed at international students, but that is not stopping employers from taking advantage of them. Many young workers are still being exploited, and do not know what to do about it. Rowan Forster speaks to a student who is underpaid by their employer.

Melbourne’s international students are struggling to support themselves with part-time wages. Many of them are finding it difficult to afford their rent and bills when they only have time to work a handful of hours every week.

The financial burden they experience is made worse when employers use poor excuses to underpay and exploit them.

For Ahmed, this is an everyday reality. Ahmed has been working in a nursing home as a cleaner for around two years. With his weekdays occupied by study commitments, Ahmed has no choice but to work weekends in order to pay his rent.

He says that he is unsure if he is getting the correct pay and is struggling more than ever to make ends meet.

“I do struggle to support myself financially. If it was not for my parents supporting me, I would struggle to survive,” he said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman, which has recently launched a social media campaign aimed at educating international students about their work rights, says a casual aged care cleaner should be paid penalty rates of approximately $27 dollars an hour on Saturdays, and $31 dollars per hour on Sundays.

Ahmed is only paid a $16 dollar hourly rate on both days.

His employer pays him on an Australian Business Number (ABN) as an independent contractor. Independent contractors do not have minimum pay rates or conditions, but their terms are negotiated on the worker’s contract. The difference is, Ahmed says he has never signed a contract for his employer. This technically makes him a casual worker, and gives him eligibility for the Ombudsman’s outlined pay rates.

There is no simple solution for Ahmed. He needs the money to live and pay his bills, and finding another job could take a long time.

“Finding jobs in Melbourne is really, really tough. There’s too much competition and you need a reference to get in. If I leave my job now, there are many other students willing to work at a lower wage rate,” he says.

Ahmed has confronted his employer with questions about his wage, but nothing has changed.

“[My employer] says that these are the parameters and if you want to work you can. I asked him for a pay rise, he always replies by saying that business is down. He clearly mentioned that he will be paying me a weekday rate on weekends and on holidays,” Ahmed says.

“I am worried that I will lose my job if I complain about him,” he added.

Ahmed is only one of thousands of international students who are exploited by employers. Stories of being overworked or underpaid are commonplace for these workers, as youth, language, and cultural barriers can make them vulnerable to exploitation.

A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman says that these instances are quite common, and that any international students who are unsure of their rights, should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.

“From time to time, we receive intelligence which suggests overseas workers in some sectors are being paid as little as $8 an hour. We are constantly looking at new and innovative ways to educate overseas workers about their workplace rights, particularly minimum pay rates,” the spokesperson said.

“We encourage any workers who believe they have not received their full entitlements to get in touch with us.”

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).