The issue of international students being paid incorrectly is, unfortunately, a common experience – particularly in retail, hospitality and cleaning jobs. Talking to your boss about pay can be scary, but it’s essential that you’re not taken advantage of. Below are some steps to guide you through the process of asking for higher pay.

1. Do some research

  • Find out the industry you’re working in and the rate of pay you’re entitled to. Use the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Pay and Conditions Tool to find out how much you should legally get.
  • Know that it is against the law for employees to be paid less than the minimum wage or award rate for their industry – even if the employee is an international student – it makes no difference!

2. Know what your goal is:

  • Decide what the minimum amount you’re prepared to work for is, and be ready to walk away if you don’t get it. Never settle for below the minimum wage amount.
  • For many international students, the 20 hours of work per week rule is hard to live with. However, fear of being reported for violating this rule can make it hard to confront employers about pay. It’s best to stick to the 20-hour rule so that you can’t get into any trouble, and you’ll also be in a better position to negotiate higher pay.

3. Stay calm and negotiate:

  • Pick a time and place that’s good for both you and your boss to have a proper discussion.
  • Take a deep breath and know it’s ok to ask to be paid what you’re worth – remember that this isn’t personal – it’s business!
  • Don’t launch straight into it. Start with brief small talk to build some trust before you start.
  • State what you’ve come to talk them about. Be calm but very clear. Politely show that you know what your legal pay rate is and then ask for what you would like to be paid instead – the smart strategy is to ask for a little more than what you expect to get. Here is a rough guide to what you could say:

“I would like to discuss my pay rate with you. I’ve realised that I’m being paid under the amount set out in my industry award. I feel that it benefits both of us, for me to be working under the right conditions and so I would like to be paid ___.”

  • Adjust this, depending on what you’re asking for. But make sure you talk in precise numbers – don’t be vague. Mention the facts you’ve gathered in your research so that they know they can’t try to tell you something that isn’t true.
  • When they speak, listen. Even if you disagree, showing that you are listening helps to build trust.
  • If they refuse, or offer too little, ask them questions about why that’s their position. This will enable you to understand their thinking and then offer counter arguments.
  • Mention the work that you do and your skills to remind them of why you’re valuable to them.
  • Mention that you like the job and being paid properly will improve your commitment even more.
  • Even if they get aggressive or angry, never copy it. Stay cool and stick to your goals.

4. Know where to go for support

  • The Fair Work Ombudsman is a free service to all people working in Australia. They provide confidential information and advice on working conditions and pay. Check out their website or phone: 13 13 94
  • Your university will also offer student services for legal advice and support.  Check out your uni’s website to find out how to access them.