Working in Australia: visas, taxes, minimum pay and rights

Photo: Samantha Su

Photo: Samantha Su


ARE you looking for work in Australia? There are a whole lot of things you need to know even before you begin the job hunt.  Karen Poh and Marcella Purnama report.

THINKING of working in Australia?

Not all international students are so lucky to enjoy an all-expense paid study trip, and many do look for part-time jobs to help pay the bills. Some do it for some extra spending money, and others do it simply for the experience or to kill time.

But before you even start looking for work, make sure you understand the working conditions of your student visa.

A good place to start is the Fair Work Ombudsman website – where you can access the information in languages other than English, including Chinese, Hindi, Korean and Thai.

20-hour work restrictions


It wasn’t too long ago that international students had to apply for a work visa in addition to their student visas to have permission to work in Australia.

But from 2010, student visas now includes the right work to work in Australia – though restrictions apply.

You cannot work more than 20 hours a week when your course is in session, other than work which has been registered as part of your course. But no limits apply during the official semester holidays. It sounds silly to say this, but a week begins on a Monday and ends on the Sunday, so make sure the hours work out when sorting out your rosters. This applies to both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Things are slightly different if you have a spouse or dependents who are here with you in Australia. Spouses and dependents of undergraduate students have the same work restrictions, i.e. 20 hours a week during semester and no limits during the holidays. But spouses and dependents of postgraduate students can work full-time.

Tax File Number (TFN)

A Tax File Number (TFN) is essential if you want to work in Australia, and employers will ask you for one when you begin work. TFNs are issued by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and are used to identify people for tax purposes.

International students are considered residents for tax purposes. So to avoid paying the highest rate of tax, a TFN is essential for you when it’s time to claim some money back. Read our Tax Help.

Applying for a TFN is easy. You can do it online.

Minimum pay and conditions

Your minimum pay and conditions may be set by an award, agreement or contract of employment. These are legal documents which set out your employer’s obligations to you and your responsibilities as an employee.

If you are asked to sign any type of document agreeing to work conditions, make sure you read it very carefully and understand it before you sign. Also keep a copy for your records.

Your award or agreement should tell you things like your minimum rate of pay; whether you are entitled to penalty rates (higher pay rates) for working nights, weekends or public holidays; the minimum number of hours per shift you can be rostered and paid for; and if you should be paid an allowance for doing certain tasks.

Pay rates vary according to your age, as well as the industry you work in. You can work out your pay rates using the Paycheck calculator on the Fairwork Ombudsman website.

But as a rule of thumb, your employer should pay you at least the legal minimum rate shown in your award or agreement. Your employer can pay you more than the minimum rate, but not less. Depending on your age you may be paid a junior rate. In most jobs you will be paid junior rates until you turn 21.

Do also note how your employers will be paying you, such as in cash, by cheque or direct debits into your bank account. Each payment requires a pay slip as proof, and it would be handy to file them away.

Workplace rights

It’s also important that you know your rights at work so you don’t get ripped off.

Poor awareness about workplace rights has seen many students settling for less than minimum wage. Read one student’s story here.

You should be paid for all hours you work. Many students often don’t realise they ought to be paid even for trial shifts and during probation periods. You should also be paid to attend meetings, when you attend training, as well as when you have been rostered to open and close the business.

You should start and finish your shift at the rostered time whether work is busy or quiet, unless you and your employer agree otherwise.

Also, money can’t generally be taken out of your pay if customers leave without paying, if the cash registers are short, or if you accidentally break something.

A Fair Work Ombudsman spokesman said foreign workers, including international students, have the same rights as any other worker in Australia, but youth, language and cultural barriers could make it difficult for foreign workers, including international students, to negotiate their employment conditions.

He said common issues included underpayment of their full entitlements and not being provided with access to entitlements such as annual leave and work breaks.

“The best defence for a foreign worker is an awareness of their workplace rights,” he said.

“Any foreign worker who is concerned they have been treated unfairly or is seeking information about minimum entitlements under workplace laws should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50. Information translated into 27 languages is available at”

Quitting your job

And finally a note about quitting your job. If you want to resign from your job you usually have to tell your employer in advance. If you don’t give your employer enough notice they may be able to keep some of your pay to cover the notice period – it’s also good etiquette.

Would you like to know more? The International Student Legal Advice Clinic is holding a free talk on workplace rights from 6 to 8pm Tuesday April 19 at The Couch, 69 Bourke St, Melbourne. The session includes a free meal, as well as prizes to be won.

Do you juggle your studies with part-time work? What has your experience been working in Australia? Do you have any advice for other students? Tell us in the comments section below.

There are 4 comments

  1. Doreen Chew

    It would be good if you are able to provide a link so that that international student can check their “minimum wage rate”….

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