International students have the same workplace rights as all workers in Australia. If you are having issues at work the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is available to give you free help. Importantly, you can seek the FWO’s assistance without fear of your visa being cancelled.
Read Jessica’s story to find out how the FWO can help you sort out workplace issues about pay and working hours.
Jessica, a 21-year-old international student came to Sydney from Shanghai, China. While studying an accounting degree at university, she looked for a casual job. Jessica was worried that her English might not be good enough for some employers, so she applied for jobs advertised on various Chinese community websites. She found a job working in a Chinese restaurant.
Her new boss was also from Shanghai and gave Jessica free meals on the days she worked. Jessica felt comfortable and safe working in a place where she didn’t need to speak much English and her boss treated her nicely. Her boss gradually asked her to work more and more hours. In most weeks, she worked over 50 hours.
Jessica never received a payslip and her hours changed constantly. She started to write down the hours she worked and the amount she was paid on her phone. Jessica received $10 an hour and then, after several months, this increased to $13 an hour.
Impact on studies
Jessica spent so many hours working in the restaurant that she failed two of her university subjects. She realised that she spent too much time working and did not have enough time and energy to study. Jessica asked her boss about reducing her hours. Her boss said no and told her that if she did, he would report Jessica to the Immigration Department for breaching her visa. Jessica knew that her visa only allowed her to work 40 hours a fortnight during the semester.
Jessica was really worried and didn’t know what to do. She was too scared to go back to work because she now felt threatened by her boss. At this time, Jessica was approached by the student advisor from her university who was concerned about her failing subjects. Jessica became upset but eventually shared her experience with the student advisor. She told Jessica the pay rates she received were below the minimum rates set by law. The advisor encouraged Jessica to get help from the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Fair Work Ombudsman
Jessica was worried about getting into trouble but she did call the Fair Work Ombudsman. She was told she had been underpaid and reassured that she would not get in trouble for asking for help from the Fair Work Ombudsman. She decided to lodge a claim online. This was then investigated by a Fair Work Inspector. Jessica’s work diary which she had kept on her phone was important in identifying the hours that she worked and the amount of money she received. The Fair Work Inspector calculated she had been underpaid $8000! The employer co-operated with the Fair Work Ombudsman through the investigation and paid the money he owed to Jessica.
If you have concerns
Visit www.fairwork.gov.au/internationalstudents, call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 or call 13 14 50 for Translating and Interpreting Service. You can also tell the FWO about a workplace issue anonymously in English or in one of 16 other languages.