Failure to Protect

22 April 2016

International students are increasingly voicing concerns regarding underpayment at part-time positions. A Nepalese student recently made complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman, alleging her employer underpaid her during 18 months of employment, paying her a rate of only $12 an hour, on the grounds of citizenship.

According to Commonwealth workplace laws, the hourly minimum wage of $17.29 applies to all employees in Australia, regardless of contract length. The Fair Work Ombudsman has also assured employees that they have the right to make complaints or enquiries about their employment.

Nevertheless, these workplace laws frequently fail to protect international workers. Unpleasant experiences at workplaces remain prevalent among many student visa holders with an hourly rate of $10-$12 being commonplace.

Science student Jessie Yu has been working as a part-time floor staff member at a Chinese restaurant in Vermont South since last December.

“My colleagues are being so friendly to me. I was even invited to their party meal during Chinese New Year,” says Jessie.

When asked about her hourly rate of $11, Jessie justifies it as “quite understandable because a lot of Asian-owned companies underpay their employees, including many local employees”.

While some students seeking part-time work have assumed being underpaid is inevitable, others think they deserve more.

“They only pay me $13 an hour and that’s certainly way below minimum wage,” says Bertin Ong, Treasurer of UMSU International who works at a fruit juice stall at Queen Victoria Market.

“Having to wake up early and work for long hours with only a 15-minute break each shift, I certainly deserve a higher pay.”

The prevalence of the injustice begs the question: what is driving the students’ reluctance to report their underpayment? Bertin Ong suggests that “international students often acknowledge their capability and the lack of experience working in a foreign country. Most students don’t care much about being underpaid as long as there is something extra for them to spend”.

Another factor seemingly scaring students off from lodging complaints is their fear of repercussions. UMSU International president Yu Kong Low suggests that “they’d feel bad reporting their extremely nice employers”.

UMSU International is currently working to raise awareness of the laws put in place to protect student workers.


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