Why international students should fight for fair wage in Australia
International students are being routinely underpaid by employers. Source: Cutternsnap/Unsplash.com

Studying in Australia can be expensive for an international student.

From cost of living to tuition fees, not to mention the occasional weekend trip you’re likely to want to make, studying here can quickly add up.

The good news is your student visa allows you to work 20 hours a week to earn some extra moolah, but you might need to fight for a fair wage.

Australia has a booming tourism industry, so there are plenty of part-time jobs in hotels, restaurants and cafes to help fund your student life. Minimum wage in Australia is AU$18 (US$14) meaning a few hours’ work can help you afford that yearend trip you’ve been dreaming about.

Working alongside your studies is a great way to make a bit of extra money to afford all your expenses, not to mention the workplace experience you’ll be able to talk about in job interviews after university.

But, if you’re planning on working in Australia alongside your studies, be careful to ensure you’re not being exploited.

Forty-three percent of international students earned less than AU$15 (US$12) an hour last year, and a quarter received less than half of the minimum wage, according to a survey called Wage Theft in Australia conducted by the National Temporary Migrant Work Survey.

Interestingly, the majority actually know they are being exploited. The study reveals that 73 percent of international students earning under the minimum wage are aware they are underpaid.

The question is: why do they do it?

“International students being illegally underpaid are unlikely to raise a fuss,” reasons Natasha Abrahams, president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, in an Op-Ed for The Australian.

“Those who are desperate enough to work for far less than minimum wage are not in an economic position to take a stand against workplace exploitation.

International students are unlikely to ask for fair pay for their jobs. Source: Chloe Leis/Unsplash.com

“They are relying on their meagre earnings to pay for food and housing, and they know that if they ask their employer for minimum wage they will be replaced easily by another international student willing to work for crumbs.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As an international student in Australia, you are legally entitled to be paid the same as Australian nationals, especially since you are bringing money into the country by studying there.

Standing up against employers can be scary, especially when you know they can just find another international student who won’t complain about being underpaid.

Luckily, you have the law on your side and your university’s career service should help you if you’re being exploited.

Abraham said:

“Universities have a role in helping students access appropriate services as needed.

“Adequately resourced student associations are a key part of the university infrastructure in advocating for international students and providing pastoral care. Universities must ensure students are aware of their rights.”

If you are worried about being underpaid for a job you need when studying in Australia, you can talk to your university’s careers service who can give you career and legal advice on how to manage the situation.

Discussing issues with your employer can be daunting when you’re not used to the workplace environment and you need your job to afford your rent, fees and food. But your university’s career service should help you to come up with a reasonable request and find new employment if things don’t go your way.

Universities themselves also often offer employment opportunities to work on campus with the institution as your employer. The University of Melbourne, for example, offers the Students@work program which hires students to complete jobs on campus.

Workshops and skill development programs can also help you to assert yourself in the workplace. Many universities run workshops focussing on casual work skills, workplace etiquette and how to deal with conflicts at work.

Ultimately, your university wants you to be successful and happy, so you can be confident that they have your best interests at heart and will treat you fairly, either with work advice or becoming your employer.

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