News Article

Normalisation of Unpaid Trials: How Melbourne’s Casual Job Market Exploits International Students

Shivani, 21, moved from India six months ago. In April, she was called in for her first casual job at a kebab joint on Flinders Street. The marketing graduate was asked by the owner to do 12 hours of unpaid trial shifts before being potentially hired at $18 per hour—$3.38 below the minimum wage then.


This article was originally published in Farrago Edition Four 2023: Multiverse. Read the full issue online here.

Shivani*, 21, moved from India six months ago. In April, she was called in for her first casual job at a kebab joint on Flinders Street.

The marketing graduate was asked by the owner to do 12 hours of unpaid trial shifts before being potentially hired at $18 per hour—$3.38 below the minimum wage then.

“The minimum wage part of it, she asked me over and over again, ‘Did you read it clearly? Is that okay with you? If so, then show up’.”

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, employees cannot be paid less than their applicable minimum wage ($23.23 per hour starting 1 July 2023), even if they agree to it. Moreover, there are no trial shift rates and unpaid trials are unlawful where the job does not require specific skills or exceeds one shift.

But, laws are not keeping predatory employers in Melbourne from using both unpaid trials and low wages to extort free labour from international students—preying on their ignorance about Australian work rights and desperation for money amidst the cost-of-living crisis.

International students — an easy target

International students, “especially [those] who look new, innocent or desperate”, are often victims of wage theft, says Thai student Jaran*.

He was offered a five-hour trial shift by the owner of a Japanese takeaway restaurant near Chinatown, at a pay rate of $20 an hour.

“I was desperate for the money. And I think he knew about that,” adds the 20-year-old.

After their trial shifts, both Shivani and Jaran were “ghosted” by their employers and when they went to the businesses to check, they were turned away.

“They made me do free work. It was pretty sad because I saw so many people interviewed and did not know how many were getting scammed,” says Shivani.

Jaran says he contacted Fair Work to report the wage theft, but was told “there wasn't enough evidence to build a case”.

“Because the text messages were just my information, giving it to him, you know, my text phone number, my bank details.”

Fear of joblessness, retribution silences students

Unlike Jaran, some international students are reluctant to report wage theft or leave their exploitative workplaces, lest they are unable to find other employment. 

At an Australia Post outlet in the outer suburbs, Prateek* experienced weeks of unpaid training and wage theft.

The management student works 24 hours a week as a casual for less than the minimum wage, but says he is not “foolish” for continuing with the job.

“It is difficult to find any other job, I made 50-60 applications… If I had a backup option, I would surely report it. But I do not… I would be completely unemployed.”

“It is better to have something than nothing.”

Others, like civil engineering student Li*, worry that speaking out about wage theft will lead to retaliation from their former employers.

Until April this year, Li worked casually at a Chinese restaurant in Carlton for $15 per hour.

As he had limited experience, his boss told him he would not pay Li for his first trial shift because he did “things too slowly”.

Li says he was ridiculed for being the victim of workplace exploitation. His friends laughed at him for working for “such less money”.

“Those insulting me will say ‘Why don’t you practise your English and find a Western restaurant?’.”

“It seems to be a latent rule that Chinese owners might not pay you the legal wage and will exploit you.”

Li says he still fears “retribution” from his former employer if he reports the wage theft to Fair Work.

Afraid of reporting now? Take your time — up to six years.

Most cases of casual wage theft go unreported as international students like Li and Prateek either choose not to report or stick with their predatory employers nonetheless. But, what most are unaware of is — if in the future they decide to claim their stolen wages, the law permits workers up to six years to take legal action against wage theft.

“Understanding your rights does not mean that you have to quit your job straight away, once you realise you are underpaid. You have six years to report wage theft and get your money back,” highlights Naiyu Wang, a community organiser at the Migrant Workers Centre, which provides free and confidential legal support to migrants facing workplace issues.

Wang suggests keeping written evidence like payslips and using the Record My Hours app by Fair Work, which tracks workplace location and records the hours worked. It serves as proof of employment in reporting cases of wage theft to Fair Work Ombudsman against employers guilty of flouting labour laws.

Note: Some names in this article have been changed to protect interviewees from retribution.

Editors note: An Australia Post spokesperson contacted Farrago with the following statement regarding the incidence of underpayment detailed in this article:

"Australia Post does not tolerate underpayment in its extended workforce.

If the student in your article suspects wage underpayment, then we urge them to report it. They can contact our Whistleblower Hotline on 1800 799 353 (in Australia) or +61 3 8603 5364 (overseas) – see the Australia Post Whistleblower Reporting information sheet on our website (also available in a range of languages – see

If Australia Post is made aware of a complaint, it can investigate and take appropriate action if it is proved that the student was underpaid."










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