Working in Australia – Do you know your rights?
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has detailed information for visa holders, including international students, covering basic workplace relations information, common issues faced by students, such as unpaid work and the FWO’s arrangement with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The FWO may give you some protection even if you’re in breach of your visa conditions.
Jessica’s story is a classic example of how the FWO can help you sort out workplace issues about pay and hours of work.
Jessica, a 21 year old international student came to Australia from Shanghai, China. While studying an accounting degree at university, she looked for casual work. Concerned that her English might not be good enough for some employers, she applied for jobs advertised on various Chinese community websites. She found a job working in a Chinese restaurant.
Her new boss was also from Shanghai and gave Jessica free meals on the days she worked. Jessica felt comfortable and safe working in a place where she didn’t need to speak much English and her boss treated her nwell. Her boss gradually asked her to work more and more hours, and she soon found herself working over 50 hours some weeks.
Jessica never received a pay slip and her hours changed constantly. She started to write down the hours she worked and the amount she was paid on her phone. The FWO has a handy free app t0 record the hours you work.
Jessica received $10 an hour and then this increased to $13 an hour. She spent so many hours working in the restaurant that she failed two of her university subjects. She realised that she spent too much time at work and did not have enough time and energy to study. Jessica asked her boss about reducing her hours. Her boss said no and told her that if she did, he would report Jessica to the Immigration Department for breaching her visa. Jessica knew that her visa only allowed her to work 40 hours a fortnight during semester.
Jessica was really worried and was too scared to go back to work because she now felt threatened by her boss. At this time, Jessica was approached by the student advisor from her university who was concerned about her failing subjects. Jessica eventually shared her experience with the student advisor who told Jessica the pay rates she received were below the minimum rates set by law. The advisor encouraged Jessica to get help from the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Jessica was worried about getting into trouble but she did call the Fair Work Ombudsman. She was told she had been underpaid and reassured that she would not get in trouble for asking for help from the Fair Work Ombudsman, who understood her situation.
She decided to lodge a claim online which was investigated by a Fair Work Inspector. Jessica’s work diary which she had kept on her phone was important in identifying the hours that she worked and the amount of money she was paid. The Fair Work Inspector calculated she had been underpaid $8000!
The employer cooperated with the Fair Work Ombudsman through the investigation and paid the money he owed to Jessica.
Jessica has recently found a new job working for a fast food business. She is now receiving legal wages and only works 40 hours or less a fortnight. Jessica also passed all of her subjects last semester.
How to seek help from Fair Work Ombudsman in multiple languages
International students have the same workplace rights as all workers in Australia. If you are having issues at work, the Fair Work Ombudsman is available to give you free help. Importantly, you can seek the FWO’s assistance without fear of your visa being cancelled. There’s even a section to seek help about work entitlements and report breaches anonymously in multiple languages.