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Work right: Your questions about working in Australia answered

Meld Magazine

Mon Sep 12 2016


DO I have work rights in Australia? Should I fight for my rights? Will I face deportation if I speak out? Gabrielle Marchetti, Principal Lawyer at legal centre JobWatch, answers common questions international students might have once they decide to work here. 


Stories of international student exploitation at the workplace are unfortunately far too common but it doesn’t have to be.

Understanding what you’re entitled to, and what you should be fighting for once you enter the Australian workforce, will make a world of difference in making sure that you are protected from unscrupulous employers.

Being an international student doesn’t mean that you must settle for less, and by seeking help and actively improving your situation, you’d be making the life of future students much easier.

Speaking to Gabrielle Marchetti, the Principal Lawyer at Victorian legal centre JobWatch (which specalises in work rights), we asked some of your common questions about working in Australia to dispel any concerns about working in Australia that and clarify what international students should do when faced with employers who manipulate or underpay you.

Do I have work rights? What are my rights?

Workers in Australia have many rights and protections under a number of different laws. Some of these protections come from Australian Commonwealth laws and others come from State laws. All workers are entitled to:

  • Not be bullied at work
  • Not be discriminated against at work
  • Not be sexually harassed at work
  • Work in a safe environment
  • Not be punished (for example you must not be dismissed or taken off the roster) because you asked for your work rights to be respected

If you are an employee and not an independent contractor running your own business through an Australian Business Number, you will also be entitled to:

  • Receive a minimum hourly rate of pay
  • Receive detailed payslips within 1 day of your pay
  • Have superannuation contributions made by your employer into your super fund, as long as you are over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month.

I’m grateful that I have a job even if it’s below the minimum wage – it’s already better than what you would normally get paid in my home country. Why should I fight for my rights?

The more people fight for their rights, the more likely it is that employers will obey the law and treat employees fairly. If you don’t say anything when treated badly, nothing will change.

After you leave that job, another international student will probably be employed and the employer will continue to break the law, because they think they can get away with it. So the pattern of unlawful behaviour will continue and affect other people, not just you.

Also, if you think that getting $10 or $15 per hour is better than what you would get back home, that could be because the cost of living may be lower in your home country, so wages may be lower. Our minimum wages, which have been set by law, reflect the fact that living is expensive here and, as a society, we want all our workers to enjoy a fair standard of living.

What choice do I have? I have no choice to settle for bad conditions and pay because of language barriers. A job is a job, it’s better than no job at all.

You don’t have to settle for bad conditions and pay just because of language barriers. If you are not being treated fairly at work, there are organisations that can help you through the use of interpreters.

For example, your can get free and confidential legal advice from the International Students Work Rights Legal Service and we can arrange a free interpreter service for you.

Will I get into trouble with my visa if I report my employer? Who should I talk to for advice?

If the Department of Immigration and Border Protection finds out that you have worked more than 40 hours per fortnight then you may be in trouble with that Department.

However, you should keep in mind that it is against the law for an employer to allow an international student to work against their visa conditions. This means that the employer can get into much more trouble with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, unless they can prove that they took reasonable steps to stop you from working more than 40 hours per fortnight.

Also, it is important that you understand that complaining about your unfair work conditions to the Fair Work Ombudsman or in a Court or Tribunal is not a breach of your visa conditions.

If you are worried about your situation, you have a right to get free and confidential legal advice from the International Students Work Rights Legal Service. Rest assured that the lawyers will not share your information with any Government department, your employer or anyone else.