Students, backpackers and other foreign part time workers need to know about employment change

by Ray Clancy on January 16, 2018

in Jobs in Australia

The Fair Work Ombudsman in Australia is reminding overseas workers, especially students and backpackers who have part time employment, that there have been a number of changes which could affect their pay.

In some sectors such as food and hospitality they are now entitled to overtime pay and if working less than a 38-hour week the number of hours and time worked needs to be agreed in advance.

(Wavebreak Media Ltd/

In addition, a part time employee who regularly works additional hours for 12 months may ask to increase their guaranteed hours. Employers may only refuse on reasonable business grounds.

The FWO is concerned that people arriving from overseas may not be aware of the changes and even some employers may not have taken them on board.

The latest figures show that in the 2016/2017 year the FWO achieved penalties of more than $4.42 million in litigations where it was held one or more of the employees was a visa holder

The figures also reveal that while overseas workers make up 6% of the workforce in Australia they were in involved in 18% of the workplace disputes the FWO assisted with in the last financial year and 49% of the litigations filed last year.

In the latest case the former manager of a café on the Gold Coast has been penalised $27,200 after admitting the underpayment of 12 employees at the Oliver Brown café at Surfers Paradise.

The employees were underpaid a total of $24,575 between January and September 2015 and seven of them were from overseas. Four were on 417 working holiday visas, with the others on a 457 skilled worker visa, 444 special category visa and a partner visa.

There were also four juniors among the 12 underpaid workers, including two aged 18, one aged 19 and another aged 20.

Judge Salvatore Vasta said the café owner discriminated against a number of the employees, on, it would seem, the basis either of coming from a non-English speaking background, having a visa or their youth.

‘There doesn’t appear to be any other explanation as to why there were some rates given to some people and other rates to others, except when one looks at the personal and cultural background of the workers,’ Judge Vasta said.

‘It would seem that a worker on a visa who came from a non-English speaking background was certainly underpaid more than a person who is a permanent resident of this country from an English speaking background,’ he added.

The underpaid workers performed duties including washing dishes, taking orders and making drinks and desserts. Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors discovered the underpayments when they conducted an audit after a worker made underpayment allegations. The workers were back-paid in full late last year.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the targeting of vulnerable workers with low discount flat rates was a particularly concerning feature of the case. ‘We treat exploitation of overseas and young workers particularly seriously because they can be especially vulnerable if they are not aware of their rights, have language barriers or are reluctant to complain,’ she explained.

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