A recent report undertaken by Fairfax has told of the exploitation that international student workers face when working in Australia.
Australia is a temporary home for around 550, 000 international students. More than half of students migrating to Australia undertake part time work to pay their way after arrival. This gives them an important role in Australia’s labour market, accounting for between 1 and 2 percent of today’s workforce.
Though there is infrequent government recognition of the contribution received from international student workers. It has been noted that none of the media releases by the Commonwealth ministers responsible for tertiary education between 2010 and now, related to the work made by international students.
Additionally, injustice and exploitation towards international student workers is a severe issue. The investigation conducted by Fairfax Media disclosed that abuse by the colleges in which the students are enrolled is only one form of exploitation the students are forced to endure.
In 2005, a study was conducted on 200 international university students to decipher general working conditions that the students were subject to. The interviews concluded that 58 percent of the students in the study were paid below minimum wage, and earn on an average of just $7-$15 per hour.
More recently, a similar study by the union United Voice concluded that 60 percent of international student workers are now earning below the national minimum wage with a quarter of those labouring on a rate of less than $10 an hour.
This exploitation that international student workers are confronted with has been associated with their vulnerability, and poorly regulated minimum wages.
International students are considered vulnerable due to their relatively young age, personal attributes, lack of understanding of their fair work rights in Australia and their inability to practice fluent English or adequate communication.
They are also susceptible to poorer working conditions when their employer is aware that the student is dependent on them for the sponsorship of a 457 visa or permanent residence application.
Australian law can leave them further vulnerable with financial pressure. International students do not have access to the financial assistance that domestic students are eligible for, such as study allowances.
In most cases, international students are also required to pay University fees upfront which can be a substantial amount, plus the cost of textbooks and other expenses. Law on immigration adds further vulnerability to these students with visa rulings that limit the amount of hours they are allowed to work during study periods to just 40 hours per fortnight.
This vulnerability is not all that makes up for the exploitation that international students endure. Exploitation is occurring because employers are taking advantage of this identified vulnerability.
Hazardous industries such as cleaning and hospitality are well known for their non-compliance with Fairwork Australia, a hub for the exploitation of international students.
These aspects of vulnerability identified reveal that the unjust treatment of international student workers is not only owed to deceitful employers but it has become the norm in the Australian labour market. This sort of exploitation should be dealt with by:
- Providing international students with detailed information on their workplace rights before they begin employment.
- Ensuring that both parties (employer/employee) are both aware of each other’s rights.
- Students should have sufficient contact with the Immigration Department.
- Ensuring the 40 hour visa ruling is not breached.
- Employers should conduct regular compliance checks to ensure their contracting arrangements are not breaching any new laws.
International students add value to our workplace and our classrooms. These students do not deserve the exploitation that so many are enduring.