International students forced to work for $8 an hour


International students across Sydney are experiencing exploitation in their workplaces, often being paid as little as $8 per hour by companies who are keen to take advantage of their desire to find paid employment.

Such shocking salaries, which fall well below the minimum legal entitlement, are forcing many students to break visa regulations which dictate that they may only work for 40 hours per fortnight, thus putting them at risk of deportation.

During a visit to an English Language School in Sydney last week, Fairfax Media discovered that more than 50 international students are being paid below the country’s minimum wage of $16.87 per hour. While a dozen of these students said that they earned approximately $10 per hour in cash at Thai, Korean, Chinese and Turkish restaurants and cafes in the city’s suburbs, one Chinese student claimed that she was being paid $9, and various students added that they had friends who were earning $8.

One Italian student, who said that she was working up to 70 hours each week at both a café and restaurant in addition to studying for four hours per week, commented:

“What can I do? I have to work. I know it’s illegal but I cannot work less [than 20 hours per week]. I would not survive.”

Last week’s discoveries indicate that little has changed for international students working in Sydney since Fairfax Media’s last major investigation in 2013, which revealed that more than 40 of the city’s restaurants were offering wages as meagre as $8 per hour.

The Sydney-based Redfern Legal Centre operates its own international student service and dealt with 53 cases of workplace exploitation in 2014 alone.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Chief Executive Jo Shulman raised the concern that international students tend to be too afraid to speak out against their employers for fear of retribution.

“Their employers will often threaten to report them to immigration and have them deported if they make a complaint.”

A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman, which recouped $1.1 million in wages and entitlements for approximately 700 visa holders throughout the last financial year, added that foreign workers were often not aware of their rights in the workplace under Australian law and were “vulnerable to exploitation” owing to “youth, language and cultural barriers”.

The Ombudsman is currently investigating the Malaysian restaurant PappaRich in Broadway following four complaints from former employees.

One such complaint was raised by 25-year-old Malaysian university graduate Wan, who claimed that he was paid just $13 per hour, rather than the $21 to which he was entitled under the industry award, and received no superannuation or penalty rates.

“They probably assume because we are students we have no idea of our rights,” he said. “This is a big international franchise, so it’s no longer just small business.”

PappaRich was unwilling to comment as the matter was still under investigation “with the facts still being clarified.”

President of the Council of International Students stated that international student exploitation is “common to the point where everyone thinks it’s okay” and that numerous students were “distressed and despaired” about how to cope.

One of the world’s most expensive destinations for international students, Australia is recognised for its high fees and often startling living costs.

While international students working across the country are unhappy and a number have raised their concerns, the vast majority are still unsure of the choices available to them and, all-importantly, their rights.