RLC in the Media: International student Andres tried to access his super but realised it had never been paid

SBS News hears from students who have not been able to access their superannuation payments made available by the government, speaking to RLC employment solicitor, Sharmilla Bargon.

Catalina Florez reports for SBS News

Like all international students, Andres Puerto came to Australia to learn and get ahead. ​​​​

His plan was to stay six months but he soon fell in love with the country and has lived in Sydney for more than three years.​

The 27-year-old from Colombia is now completing a Master of Business Information Systems at Torrens University Australia, a private university which opened in 2013. ​

For two years, Andres worked at a cafe and bookshop owned by the same businessman. ​​But when COVID-19 hit, he lost his job and turned to the only form of assistance allowed by the federal government for temporary visa holders; early access to his superannuation. ​​

But Andres discovered the $3,500 he was owed had never been paid by his boss. ​​

"I would like to get my money back, but beyond that, I want this not to happen to anyone else because I know how it feels and I know if a student is in a vulnerable situation and he has worked for that money and that money was ripped off, it feels really bad," he said.

It is not an isolated incident.​​

Sharmilla Bargon from the Redfern Legal Centre says they have seen an increase in international students seeking their help around unpaid superannuation. ​​​​

"We see that there's absolutely widescale exploitation of employees in this way. It's really common that if a business is struggling that superannuation will be one of the first payments that they stop making,"​​ she said.

Normally, international students can only access their superannuation once they permanently leave the country, at which point it's usually too late to reclaim unpaid payments. ​

But even for those who have tried, Ms Bargon says, "it's a long and difficult path and we have had varied success with it".

To protect the wellbeing of international students during COVID-19, RLC's Multilingual app ​My Legal Mate launched last year and has been made available for free to 50,000 international students in New South Wales thanks to NSW Government support. ​​

The app provides personalised legal information about topics including employment and superannuation. ​​

Ms Bargon says the app has seen a "dramatic increase in people making enquiries about tenancy and employment law" this year. ​

Read the full article here (SBS News, 29 June 2020)