An international student in Australia is still working although her right hand is injured (Photo by: The ABC)

“Once there was a time I wanted to commit suicide because I could not see any hope,” said Steven who is an Chinese international student in Australia. “I could only earn $7 per hour in my job. Therefore, I had to work at least 8 to 10 hours every day if I wanted to survive here. At the same time, I had to finish my heavy study. I could only sleep for four to five hours per day.”

Australia, which is one of the best places to live in in the world, attracts a large number of international students. According to the Department of Education and Training of Australian Government, as of Martch 2016, there had been 421258 international students in Australia.

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Information of international students in Australia in 2016 (Photo by: the Department of Education and Training of Australian Government)


Of course, they can enjoy Australia’s fresh air, healthy food and beautiful beach. However, many of them are experiencing the same story of Steven – the workplace exploitation.

In terms of the Australian Fair Work Commission, in 2016, the national minimum wage of Australia is $17.29 per hour. As the commission says, it is valid for all people who work in Australia. “It seems that it is not irrelevant to the international students,” said Steven. “Few of my classmates can earn so much money per hour. Most of them get only $10 or less per hour.” As SBS reports, in 2014, more than half of the international students worked in Australia got less or just a little more than the national minimum wage. Also, the United Voice states that in 2015, there might be 60 percent of the international students who worked in Australia earned less than the minimum wage. Moreover, The Age adds that there might be more than one fourth of them obtained less than $10 per hour. Faced with this situation, The Age says: “Australia grows richer by exploiting foreign students.”

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Australian international students who are exploited by employers are parading on the street (Photo by: The Age)

“Actually, the low salary is only one of the exploitation that we usually meet while working,” said Steven. “Besides that, being paid less than that was promised, unpaid wages and additional unpaid jobs are very common in our works.” As Steven said, when he worked as a waiter in a local restaurant 1 year ago, he usually got the salary three or two weeks later after the payday. “I tried to negotiate with my boss. I asked him to pay me on time because I had to pay my house rent and living expense,” said Steven. “However, my boss told me that he needed to pay the employees who are PR (Permanent Resident) preferentially. ‘If you are not happy, you can find a new job’ – this is what he told me.” Wilson, who is another Chinese international student in Australia, also had some similar unhappy experiences in his work. “When I worked as a salesclerk in a Chinese supermarket here two years ago, several times, I got less salary than that was promised,” Wilson told me. “When I asked my boss, he said: ‘as a student, you should focus on practising yourself but not how much money you can earn.’ It is really absurd.” What is more, always, Wilson was required to do some irrelevant jobs freely. Besides his own work, he needed to carry the goods, clean the shop and plan promotional activities for the supermarket. “If I refuse to do, I will be fired,” said Wilson. “However, other salesclerks who are local people do not need to do that.”

The exploitation of international students at work, which is common in Australia, should be paid more attention to. In the first place, from the angle of the international students, their rights should be protected in a country who regards the equality and democracy as the most important. What is more, for Australia, the issue has negative influences on its education export industry. As SBS states, the education export industry in Australia generates $15 billion annually, which contributes a lot to its economy. However, the common exploitation of international students at work is a threat to Australia’s international reputation, which may bring negative influences to its education export industry.

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Some media in Australia worry about Australia’s international reputation as a result of the ubiquity of workplace exploitation on international students (Photo by: The Sydney Morning Herald)

But, why does the workplace exploitation appear so frequently among the international students in Australia? There are three possible reasons. Firstly, most international students in Australia are not familiar with the laws here. In other words, always, they do not know that they are exploited. Secondly, there are two primary obstacles for international students to find good jobs: the relative low English ability and the poor understanding of local cultures. Therefore, in order to survive, many of them have to endure a available job with low wages. Thirdly, many  international students want to work or become PR (Permanent Resident) in Australia, which gives the unethical employers opportunities to exploit them. “In the last year, I worked in a media company,” said Steven. “Every hour, I could only earn 5 dollars. However, I worked very hard because the boss promised me that he would provide me the work visa after I graduate.” However, four months later, he was fired because of a small mistake. “Later I knew that the boss promised every employee the same thing. However, it is only a bad check because he has no qualification to provide the work visa to so many people. He just wanted to cheat us to work for him with extreme low salary. He fired me because I would graduate soon and the check could not be cashed,” Steven told me.

To avoid the workplace exploitation, firstly, the international students should be familiar with the relevant laws in Australia. They should know what their rights are and how to protect themselves. Secondly, while facing the work exploitation, the students should be more brave. As the Redfern Legal Centre says, Australia has a perfect legal system and people who breach the laws will be punished seriously. Therefore, the students should learn to use legal means to protect themselves. There are many rights organizations in Australia whom the students can ask for help. As the Redfern Legal Centre says, in most of its case related to the working exploitation of international students, the employers would compromise if the students were willing to use laws to resolve the problems.

“Actually, the most important thing is to improve yourself,” said Wilson. “If you can speak English well and understand the local culture deeply, it is not hard for you to find a better job.” Now, Wilson works in a accounting firm which provides him $18 per hour. “You should know how to protect yourself by using laws. However, do not just only complain when you are exploited,” added Wilson. “Try to find the reasons of why you can not find a better job and improve yourself as better as you can. Now, my wage is still not high. However, I have seen my progress. I still believe that Australia is a equal country which provide opportunities to people who has been ready.”

Key words: International students in Australia; workplace exploitation

Posted by: Yunlong Chen (450066878)