Bad practice: A guide to avoiding exploitation at work

The issue of workers being exploited in Australia has been rife in 2017 and doesn’t look like going away anytime soon. Restaurant mogul George Calombaris found himself in the spotlight just seven months ago for underpaying staff, while eatery chain Dainty Sichuan had the same issue in July.

More recently, CBD hotspot Chin Chin has come under the microscope following a bartender’s public statement that she and others were working up to 12 hours of free labour per week. Finally, a survey by three Sydney universities has uncovered instances of criminal behaviour by employers hiring backpackers and remunerating them under the minimum wage.

There is a common denominator with many of these situations, namely the exploitation of workers from overseas. Dodgy employers find it easier to cheat the system when their staff are international students for a variety of reasons; they are often less aware of their rights, unwilling to risk being fired or simply don’t feel comfortable confronting their boss.

It’s very important to understand your rights while working in Australia. There are various resources available but to cut through some of the muck, we’ve answered a few questions that international students might have about working conditions in Australia.  

What rights am I entitled to?

International students that hold a valid work visa and permission to work in Australia are entitled to the National Employment Standards (NES). Some of the following conditions apply only to casual workers. The NES include:

  • Maxium hours of work per week
  • The ability to request flexible working arrangements
  • Parental leave
  • Annual leave
  • Personal/carers leave and compassionate leave
  • Community service leave
  • Long service leave
  • Public holidays
  • Notice of termination and redundancy payment
  • Fair Work Information Statement

Can I be paid in cash?

It might be tempting to accept ‘cash in hand’ (when the transaction is not taxed) as a form of payment but the reality is this practice is illegal. Whether you’re picking fruit, tending bar or packing boxes, your employer should be abiding by proper practices to ensure you’re taxed, paid and treated correctly. The shorter answer: you can be paid in cash as long as tax is being deducted and sent to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

Where can I go for more information?

Studies in Australia is an essential resource for international students who wish to understand more about working in Australia. Alternatively, you can visit FairWork’s international students section for further information.


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