Strategy launched in Australia to make sure overseas students know their work rights

by Ray Clancy on September 25, 2017

in Jobs in Australia

A new strategy has been launched in Australia to raise awareness of workplace rights among international students and let them know they can seek free help if they are concerned about their work.

Students from overseas make up a large proportion of temporary entrants to Australia, numbering more than 560,000 as of July 2017, and they can face exploitation including being underpaid.

(NejroN Photo/Bigstock.com)

The Fair Work Ombudsman has launched the plan to get more of them to speak out if they are facing issues as international students tend to be reluctant to speak out and seek advice even although they have the same rights as all other workers in Australia.

‘The number of international students reporting issues to the Fair Work Ombudsman is disproportionately low compared to other categories of visa holders, despite the fact that international students represent a significant proportion of overseas visitors with work rights,’ said Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

‘We know that international students can be reluctant to speak out when something is wrong, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. This is especially the case when students think that seeking assistance will damage future job prospects or lead to the cancellation of their visa,’ she explained.

‘We’ve seen cases where employers have threatened international students with deportation for working more than the number of hours permitted under their visa when they have raised questions about their entitlements,’ she pointed out.

‘In some cases these same employers have altered payslips and underpaid hourly rates in order to disguise the number of hours the student has worked. I would like to reassure international students that in line with an agreement between my agency and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, you can seek our assistance without fear of your visa being cancelled, even if you’ve worked more hours than you should have under your visa,’ she added.

The conduct against international students the Fair Work Ombudsman sees is often serious and highly exploitative and James said that this is reflected by the large percentage of cases the Fair Work Ombudsman files in court that involve one or more international students, despite the low numbers of international students reporting issues to the agency.

Last financial year, 49% of litigations the Fair Work Ombudsman filed in court involved a visa holder and over a third of these involving an international student. Research commissioned by the Fair Work Ombudsman found that many international students were not aware of their rights under Australian workplace laws and did not know where to go for help.

Some students told researchers they had been subject to intimidation by their employers, who threatened to deport or ‘blacklist’ them for future work if they complained. The research showed that when it comes to international students in the Australian workplace, 60% believe that if they report a workplace issue to their employer the situation will either remain the same, or get worse,’ James said.

‘We know that it can be difficult to understand what is right or wrong at work, or to speak up if you are concerned. This is why we are committed to making it as easy as possible for international students to access the help they need,’ she added.

The Fair Work Ombudsman website has information available in 30 different languages and resources available to help workers understand their rights and entitlements include the Pay and Conditions Tool at www.fairwork.gov.au/pay, which can be used to calculate the correct pay rates that apply to their work.

The Fair Work Ombudsman also recently launched its popular Anonymous Report function in 16 languages other than English, enabling non-English speakers to report potential workplace breaches in their own language, without being identified.

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