A NEW study has revealed the shocking extent to which international students in Australia are being exploited by their employers.
The survey, comprised of more than 1400 student respondents, was conducted by the University of Sydney’s business school. It revealed that the majority of international students working across Australian industries are earning well below minimum wage across all industries.
Sixty per cent of international workers across Australia were found to be paid below the minimum wage of $17.29 per hour.
The retail sector was found to be one of the biggest culprits, with up to 90 per cent of its international workers being paid less than the minimum wage. To make matters worse, 90 per cent of students working weekends were not being paid penalty rates.
The study’s main researcher, Dr Stephen Clibborn, said this was due to a number of factors.
“There were certainly some who knew nothing about the minimum wage at all,” he told news.com.au. “Few, if any, that I interviewed knew there was an applicable award, a rate higher than that.”
He also attributed it to the students being in a vulnerable position – they are typically young (18-24), working in their first job ever. They are away from their usual support network and speak English as a second language.
He said the fact that there is a large number of international students in concentrated areas like Sydney doesn’t help, as there is a constant supply of labour and these students are easily replaceable.
The survey revealed that most students affected were from China, although there were people of a wide range of nationalities.
“Disturbingly, many of the 40 people interviewed even reported earnings of zero during their training periods.”
Dr Clibborn said a large number of students interviewed had been required to undertake an unpaid training period in a retail store or restaurant. This period could range from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks, and was cunpaid. In these cases, students were not necessarily guaranteed a job afterwards.
He said one of the main problems with addressing this issue was that the Fair Work Ombudsman was severely under-resourced.
“Even though they know that this is happening, they have 250 inspectors for over two million workplaces, for 11 million workers. They need more resources,’’ Dr Clibborn said.
“Likewise, unions are spread pretty thin over these kinds of industries, where you’ve got many, many restaurants and many, many shops, and membership is very low in those sectors.”
Speaking to The Guardian, President of the Council of International Students Australia Nina Khairina said international students did not speak up out of fear of losing their jobs or being reported to the immigration department for over-working.
“Students are more concerned about paying for their living and education expenses, so if their wage covers the cost, even if it is under the legal wage, they will do it anyway,” she said.
He stressed that we need to amend our employment laws so it’s clear that they apply to all workers, regardless of their immigration status.
He also emphasised that the Turnbull government needs to treat this as a priority in light of the constant stream of stories like this.
In January this year, an international student was short-changed more than $23,000 by her employer because she was “not an Aussie”.
The 27-year-old woman from Nepal was paid a flat rate of $12 an hour by the Health Express takeaway at the DFO South Wharf in Melbourne.
According to the FWO, the student alleges her employer threatened to cancel her visa if she complained to the employment watchdog.
Health Express owner Jeffrey Herscu allegedly made it clear to the student she would be paid less because she was an overseas worker.
“When I came for the interview, he said that I will give you the job, but as you are not an Aussie, I will be paying you a lesser amount,” she told Fair Work inspectors.
“It was really embarrassing for me. I had Australian friends who were doing the same kind of work, but were getting paid over $20 an hour.”
Last August, convenience store chain 7-Eleven came under fire for severely exploiting its foreign workers.
A joint Fairfax-Four Corners investigation revealed that up to two thirds of 7-Eleven stores were underpaying its international workers.
They were typically students from India or Pakistan who feared deportation if they complained.