International student workplace exploitation widespread

Recent media coverage has exposed international student exploitation in the workplace, particularly in casual jobs in the hospitality and cleaning industries.

Many students find it difficult to get paid work due to student visa conditions, which limit the hours they can work each week.

Unfortunately, students are routinely hired by employers who exploit their lack of knowledge of Australian workplace laws and employ them as cheap labour. This is a growing systemic issue for many international students.

Omar’s story

Omar (not his real name) was an international student from Singapore, studying at a university in Sydney. While studying, Omar took up casual employment at a popular restaurant.

Before agreeing to hire him the restaurant required Omar to undertake a 4-hour trial shift for which he was not paid.

Omar, who never signed an employment contract with the restaurant, subsequently began working for $13 an hour. The restaurant paid Omar in cash and did not issue him payslips.  In fact, Omar was often paid even less than $13 an hour.  Additionally, although Omar worked 6-hour shifts, his employer did not allow him to take breaks. 

Omar was afraid to confront his boss about his workplace entitlements. He relied on his income to support himself while studying in Australia and feared the restaurant would terminate his employment if confronted.  

Omar sought RLC’s assistance to enforce his right to be paid the minimum award rate, as well as his entitlement to superannuation payments. RLC supported Omar through a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation, following which the restaurant compensated Omar for the amount that he was underpaid.

Many students fear reporting their employers for entitlement breaches and underpayments, as their student visa will usually have a work restriction condition limiting their work hours to 40 hours per fortnight.

Students often fear that their employers will report them to the Department of Immigration if they make a complaint to Fair Work, and this is commonly used as a threat by their employers.

Most Australian workplace laws that cover employment in Australia can be found in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The Act provides for entitlements for workers in the hospitality and cleaning industry under the Modern Awards system.

Modern Awards operate to cover employers and employees working in Australia in specific industries. There are 122 Modern Awards. The ones usually applicable to hospitality workers and cleaners are the Restaurant Industry Award 2010 and the Cleaning Services Award 2010.

These Modern Awards usually provide entitlements for casual workers including:

  • A 25% casual rate loading on top of the award minimum salary pay per hour;
  • Penalty rates for casual employees working late hours, weekends and public holidays;
  • An unpaid 30 minute meal break for the first five hours of starting work and an unpaid 20 minute meal break for a five hour period of work after taking the first unpaid meal break; and
  • Payment of superannuation - the requirement to pay super can be found in relevant Commonwealth superannuation legislation. Casual employees who are over the age of 18 and are paid at least $450 per calendar month must be paid superannuation.

The RLC International Student Service assists many international students facing issues in the workplace or through employment generally. If you have or know of someone who might be:

  • Underpaid;
  • Working long hours or public holidays but still paid the same rate;
  • Unsure about their entitlements under Australian workplace laws; or
  • Being bullied or discriminated against at work

Please refer them to our service to book an appointment to see one of our lawyers on (02) 9698 7645.