Workplaces Robbing Vulnerable Employees of Their Work Rights


International students are being encouraged to find out their work place rights and guard against exploitation after a number of high-profile cases.

On April 20th 2017, an SBS Vietnamese investigation revealed the deliberate exploitation that many Vietnamese international students had faced in Melbourne.

It was revealed that many were being well underpaid, and only cash-in-hand.

“42 per cent of the matters the Fair Work Ombudsman filed in Court involved an international student. This shows that the conduct we are seeing involving international students is often serious and exploitative”, Fair Work Ombudsman Spokesperson told D*Scribe.

To put things into perspective, the second highest penalty ever imposed  by the Fair Work Ombudsman was in a case involving exploitation of international students.

The fine of $400,000 dollars was given to the operators of a Melbourne 7/11 store in 2016 for exploiting their employees and more than $35,000 of underpayment remains outstanding at this 7/11 store.

Elise* came to Australia a year and a half ago on a working visa from Greece to live when her husband had moved to Melbourne on a student visa.

Like every other international student, Elise needed to find a job fast, so she applied for anything and everything in her area.

“I was ready for anything”, Elise tells D*Scribe.

Elise had no prior work experience in part time work, nor did she have any experience in hospitality.

It took her one week after settling in Melbourne to find a job, and was not given any contracts to sign upon accepting her offer.

Managers of the restaurant told her her hourly wage, and that she would be paid cash in hand.

“I was happy to be paid cash in hand, because it meant I could work more hours”, Elise shared.

When asked about the restaurant’s work ethics and if she had been treated badly she responded with, “There is no different pay rate for weekends, nightshifts or holidays…but everyone knows why.”

“We all get paid cash in hand, so it makes sense.”

When Elise* tried to ask managementwhy they were not being given penalty rates, no one “seemed to bother about it”, and mostly ignored the question.

Elise is currently working 43-52 hours a week which is well over the maximum casual working hours.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, which Elise* is not aware of at the moment, it states “An employee can work a maximum of 38 ordinary hours in a week.”

It was not until a year and a half later that she was given a contract to sign, which stated she would work 10 hours a week.

Unfortunately, cases like Elise’s* have not only happened to international students, but to many young Australians at some point of their working life.

Lachie has been working for his local café for almost a year, and in February he decided to compare his payslip to a work colleague of his, only to find out that he was being underpaid by $3 an hour.  

Lachie is one of very few young employees who did not need to struggle to claim his rights back. He received around $1000 back.

However, this raises major concerns of managers not keeping track of their employees and their finances.

Currently a full time worker Tori*, tells D*Scribe about her previous retail job of eight years, in which one of three store managers she dealt with, stopped paying superannuation to their employees because they were in “financial trouble”.

Fair Work Ombudsman cracking down on common problems in workplaces

“To this day I am owed thousands and thousands in super and I’ll likely never ever see it”, Tori* says.

Finally, 21 year old Carly* was hired at a well-known café in her area last year, with thoughts that she would be treated right because of their great reputation.

“I was offered a paid six hour trial, I did the shift, was treated disgustingly by the boss during the shift and was not offered a break at all”, Carly* tells D*Scribe.

After facing rude employees, poor instructions from management and minimal training on her first shift, she turned down the job when she was offered the position. However, Carly* still awaited her six hour pay that she was promised.

“It took me four weeks and six messages of asking where my money was to get paid for a six hour shift”.

Unfortunately many of these cases go unresolved, according to Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson, because often employees are “unwilling to get directly involved in resolving a workplace issue.”

Fair Work Ombudsman has recognised this difficulty and has created an Anonymous Report Function that “enables members of the community to alert the Fair Work Ombudsman to potential workplace issues.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman continues to encourage employees, young, old, Australian citizens or International Students to know their rights in the workplace, and to seek help whenever they feel doubtful about their employment.

Fair Work Ombudsman tips for international students include:

  • You should get a Fair Work Information Statement when you start a new job
  • Keep your own records of hours worked and wages received,
  • Make sure you record the name of the business you work for and its ABN
  • Ask for offers of employment and conditions of employment in writing
  • You are entitled to receive a pay slip within one day of being paid
  • You can ask your boss about minimum wages and entitlements – or you can check with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

If you or anyone you know has been exploited by their workplace, or you feel like you may not be given your complete rights, please contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.  A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50 and information on the website is translated into 27 different languages.

**: Names used in this article are not the real names of the subjects’. Subjects’ wish to remain anonymous. 


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