Short changed at work: what to do if you are experiencing wage theft

Research from UNSW and UTS shows that an overwhelming number of international students and backpackers in Australia are suffering wage theft in silence. If you are not being paid correctly at work, there are steps that you can take.

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Take action on wage theft

According to the report Wage Theft in Silence, fewer than one in 10 migrant workers take action to recover unpaid wages even though most know they are being underpaid.

“Wage theft has been a major concern for Redfern Legal Centre’s Employment Law practice and International Student practice for many years,” RLC Employment solicitor Sharmilla Bargon said.

"The report, Wage Theft in Silence, confirms many of our observations from providing free legal advice and representation to international students and backpackers at RLC. We frequently see workers paid as little as $12 per hour. That’s almost half the minimum wage.” Ms Bargon said.

The study identified the key barriers that prevented people from coming forward. The most common reasons were not knowing what to do and concerns about the amount of effort involved. However, more than a quarter of study participants said they would not speak out because of fears of losing their visa.

RLC provides international students and other migrant workers with legal advice and representation to recover their unpaid wages. Below are some tips and information that can help you if you think you might be being underpaid at work.

Wage theft: know the signs

If you are: 

  • not being paid properly (less than $21.38/hour)
  • not being paid at all
  • not being paid for working late at night or on weekends (penalty rates)
  • not being paid for entitlements such as annual leave, sick leave, long service leave or redundancy pay

you are most likely a victim of wage theft, and you have the legal right to recover what you are owed.


Download RLC's factsheet

Underpaid at Work (English)
Underpaid at Work (Chinese - simple)

If you need help with an underpayment issue, or any other employment law matter, you can call Redfern Legal Centre for free advice and referrals on 02 9698 7277.

If you are an international student who is studying in NSW you can call RLC's International Student Legal Service NSW on 02 9698 7645.

We can arrange for a free telephone interpreter if you need one. International students can also contact us using our online form:

Video resources

Redfern Legal Centre often hears from international students and other migrant workers who are being exploited by employers who do not pay correctly or deny other workplace entitlements.

Watch these short videos to learn more:

Want to report a workplace issue anonymously?

One of the Fair Work Ombudsman's (FWO) main roles is to ensure compliance with Australian workplace laws. The FWO wants to know about injustices in the workplace to help make all workplaces fair.

Sometimes people are hesitant in coming forward to report something. The FWO’s anonymous reporting tool lets you report a workplace issue without providing any details about yourself. It is available in 17 different languages.

If you want some help with your employment you can call the FWO on 13 13 94 to talk about your concerns. If you’d prefer to speak to the FWO in your first language you can call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 13 14 50. Just tell the operator the language you speak and ask them to call the FWO on 13 13 94.

Record My Hours app

FWO's Record My Hours app makes it quick and easy for employees to record and store the hours they work, plus other information about their employment.

Don’t want to take legal action right now?

It is important to remember that you have six years to bring your unpaid wages claim from the date you were underpaid. If you would like to discuss your case with RLC, call us on 02 9698 7277. Anything you tell us will be kept confidential.