International students have the same workplace rights as all other workers in Australia. The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) can give you free advice and assistance to help you understand your rights. Importantly, you can seek the FWO’s assistance without fear of your visa being cancelled.

Read Bishal’s story to learn how the FWO can help you with a workplace issue.

Bishal, a 21-year-old international student, came to Sydney from Kathmandu, Nepal. 

Bishal got a job working in a restaurant while studying in Australia.  He worked for two weeks as a casual worker and was told he’d be paid $20 per hour. Bishal learnt about his workplace rights on the FWO’s website, www.fairwork.gov.au, when he first arrived in Australia. He knew this pay rate was less than the pay rates provided under the Restaurant Industry Award. When Bishal asked his boss about his pay, she threatened to end his employment. The boss told Bishal that the award was just a guideline, and everyone in the industry was paid $20.

Bishal understood the Restaurant Industry Award is a legal document which sets out minimum pay and conditions for people working in the restaurant industry. He decided not to accept the low pay rate, so his boss fired him by sending a text message, which said his employment was ‘not working out’. His boss also refused to pay Bishal for the two weeks he worked. Bishal knew this was wrong and that it was against the law for his boss to fire him for asking about his pay, so he decided to get help from the FWO.

At first, Bishal’s boss denied that Bishal worked at the restaurant, but after the FWO’s investigation, she admitted that she had broken the law and finally paid Bishal $2000 for the two weeks of work that Bishal did.

Even though Bishal’s boss paid him, the FWO still took the company and the boss to court. It was the second time the boss had been found to be underpaying employees. She had already been fined $21,000 for paying a Chinese backpacker just $10 per hour.

The company and Bishal’s boss was penalised almost $73,000. Bishal was praised by the FWO and the judge for educating himself about his workplace rights in Australia. By knowing his rights at work and standing up for himself, he ensured that his boss could not take advantage of his youth and status as an international student.

One of the best defences against workplace exploitation that you have as an international student is awareness of your workplace rights. In Australia, minimum pay rates apply to everyone, including international students.

If you work in the Fast Food, Restaurant and Café (FRAC) industry, visit www.fairwork.gov.au/FRAC for dedicated information including interactive graphics about your pay rates, leave, allowances, hours of work and ending employment. 

To find out more about your rights and entitlements at work or report a workplace issue, register for an online account with the Fair Work Ombudsman at www.fairwork.gov.au/register or speak with an advisor on 13 13 94. You can also report a workplace issue anonymously at www.fairwork.gov.au/tipoff.

To access information in your own language, please visit www.fairwork.gov.au/languages or call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450.