International students urged to report workplace exploitation

International students are being urged to speak up and report unscrupulous employers who may be exploiting them.

In an open letter to the international student community, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said: “The number of international students reporting issues to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is disproportionately low compared to other categories of visa holders, despite the fact that international students represent a significant proportion of overseas visitors with work rights.”

In the last financial year, 49 per cent of legal action taken by the FWO involved a visa holder – more than a third of these litigations involved an international student. Though cases filed by the FWO in court usually involved one or more international students, under-reporting remained an issue; one that continues to plague the wider international student community.

“We know that international students can be reluctant to speak out when something is wrong, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. This is especially the case when students think that seeking assistance will damage future job prospects or lead to the cancellation of their visa,” Ms James said.

Tactics used by employers to intimidate international students have included deportation threats for working more than the number of hours permitted under their visa and ‘blacklisting’ them for future work if complaints were made.

“In some cases these same employers have altered payslips and underpaid hourly rates in order to disguise the number of hours the student has worked,” Ms James added.

Furthermore, research conducted by the FWO also found 60 per cent of international students surveyed believed “that if they report a workplace issue to their employer, the situation will either remain the same, or get worse”.

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To re-assure the international student community, the FWO has launched a new strategy aimed at raising awareness of international students’ workplace rights in Australia.

“We know that it can be difficult to understand what is right or wrong at work, or to speak up if you are concerned. This is why we are committed to making it as easy as possible for international students to access the help they need,” Ms James said.

The strategy includes raising awareness around the tools and resources currently available to international students to help them identify and combat workplace exploitation.

The Pay and Conditions Tool found at the FWO website, can be used to calculate correct pay rates that apply to their work. The Anonymous Report function, also at the FWO website, enables non-English speakers to report potential workplace breaches in their own language. This function is available in 16 different languages other than English.

The Record My Hours app can also help international students and other young and/or migrant workers around the country keep track of the time they spend at the workplace. The app is downloadable from iTunes and Google Play.

Finally, the FWO also recommends students call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 or its Translating and Interpreting Service on 13 14 50.

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