Why international students should be concerned about their workers’ rights

According to Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan, international education contributed $32.4 billion to the Australian economy in 2017-18. Every year, the statistics show a significant increase in the number of overseas students choosing Australian education.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says more than 200,000 students are experiencing global study in the state. However, SBS News reports that not even half of them are seemingly aware of their working rights. In other words, they are at risk of rights theft.

International students on student visas are allowed to work up to 40 hours in a term and unlimited hours during school or university holidays. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, they are paid at an average of $19.49 per hour with superannuation, sick leave and annual leave as part-time workers. Unfortunately, my experience and that of many friends shows that students can be exploited, abused and harassed routinely so that they become cheap labour in Australia.

“International students have the same rights as all workers in Australia”, says former Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

Lucky students with fluent English communicational skills may get paid properly with award rates and entitlements. But that is just a small number, as English is not the first language of most overseas students. Not to mention, as some students have recently come to Australia with no experience, the chance that they are exploited is highly concerning. 

Most of my Vietnamese friends are not getting paid properly when working in the most popular industries, hospitality and cleaning. They said because their English is not good enough to get a high salary job, their experience is too little for the employers to pay them the minimum wages. The employers say the daily sales at the restaurants are not even enough to pay for the labour, or restricted hours prevent students from supporting themselves. All of those reasons continue the exploitation that is stealing the working rights of international students.

International students become cheap labour in Australia. Photo supplied by pexels

Working more than restricted hours can put their visas at risk of cancellation from the Immigration Department, and this becomes the most common reason they don’t dare to speak up against their ill-treated employers. Also, it is a potential reason for employers to continue their mistreatments.

But getting a job with taxable income can’t guarantee you will receive the legal rights to which you are entitled. It matters not only for international students but also domestic students. 

I asked my friends about superannuation and annual leave in employment, 8 out of 10 told me that they don’t receive these entitlements.

Some might ask, “Why do you have to care about the superannuation when you can’t have it right now?” Well, because it’s your future. For domestic students, it’s your future when you retire and no longer have the ability to work. For international students, it’s your money you can claim when you leave Australia permanently.

Superannuation is 9.5% of the total salary employees earn. Do a simple calculation of how much you have earned, and that is not a small amount anymore.

I was lucky enough to get paid at award rates when I first came to Australia. However, after 2 years of working, it was confirmed by my superannuation fund that I have no contributions to my account from my former employer, and neither did my colleagues. And unfortunately, the boss left, but he hasn’t paid me the final wages including weekly salary and annual leave.

Some colleagues had left the workplace, reported this to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) then succeeded in claiming it back. Some colleagues just want to get the final wages. They ignored the super and said, “it’s okay, no one gets it”.

Boathouse Group has stumped up to $1 million in unpaid superannuation for its employees, the Daily Telegraph writes. Research from Industry Super Australia shows more than 350,000 employees have lost $1.5 billion a year in unpaid superannuation. Have you checked with your super company yet to see if your employers are paying contributions required to your account?

Dodgy bosses are using the loophole to avoid paying workers’ rights. Photo supplied by pexels.

From July 1 2019, the ATO has announced employers who fail to meet their superannuation obligations once issued Penalty Directory Notices can face a $10,500 fine or 12-month imprisonment.

I have gone through a frustrating process to cooperate with legal services and the Fair Work Ombudsman to help me get my wages. It takes a long time, but justice and legal supports are there for international students, so be brave!

Once working in Australia, you have all the legal rights that you’re entitled. The only way to discontinue the exploitation and protect overseas students’ rights to get lawful wages is to report the illegal issues to authorities. It also helps create an Australian workforce without dodgy bosses.










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