Wage theft 'business as usual' for international students
Wage theft and exploitation continue to present problems for international students in Australia.
A new report finds that, despite commitments to improve conditions, international students are still subject to wage theft and poor employment conditions.
The nationwide survey involving 5000 international students has found the majority are experiencing serious wage theft with three in four students earning below the minimum casual wage and one in four earning less than half this minimum.
Building on their 2016 survey of temporary migrant workers, ‘International Students and Wage Theft in Australia’ is the latest report from UTS Law Associate Professor Laurie Berg and UNSW Associate Professor Bassina Farbenblum.
This new study finds that, despite efforts from the Fair Work Ombudsman over the last three years and stronger penalties against employers, it is still ‘business as usual’ in terms of the exploitation of international students.
Associate Professor Farbenblum says the proportion of international students who are egregiously underpaid has remained essentially unchanged:
Our findings show that tinkering around the edges of the problem isn’t working. Wage theft is endemic for migrant workers and indeed many Australian workers in certain industries. To seriously disrupt wage theft in Australia, we need urgent reforms to labour enforcement and student visa conditions, as well as a new wage recovery tribunal.
Associate Professor Berg says almost two thirds of international students don’t seek information or help for problems at work:
They often suffer in silence because of visa concerns or fear of job loss. Our findings confirm many who complained were in fact sacked. Their visa concerns are also valid – there’s nothing to stop the labour regulator sharing information with immigration authorities if a student has worked more hours than their visa allows.
The report forms part of the Information for Impact project, funded by StudyNSW, to better understand the problems international students encounter in work and housing, and to determine effective interventions.
Since this study, the impact of COVID-19 has seen many international students lose their casual jobs.
Associate Professor Farbenblum says they are excluded from JobKeeper and JobSeeker assistance and many are left with no income to meet their basic living expenses:
The COVID-19 shutdown has created a humanitarian crisis among international students and other migrant workers in Australia - many have been unable to pay their rent and have joined foodbank queues.
With the easing of restrictions, international students are in danger of becoming even more vulnerable to exploitation because of their highly precarious financial status and desperation for work in the tightly constrained labour market.
To document the extent of this crisis, the academics are launching a world-leading COVID- focused nationwide survey of temporary migrants in Australia.
The new survey will gauge levels of financial insecurity, workplace exploitation and homelessness among international students and other temporary migrants who have remained here during the pandemic.
Associate Professor Berg says we have moral and human rights responsibilities:
The Federal Government cannot treat international students and their labour as a utilitarian commodity. Many international students were essential workers in aged care, supermarkets, food delivery and cleaning - keeping Australians safe, fed and cared for during COVID19. Yet the Government turned its back on those who lost jobs and fails to seriously address exploitation among those who are working.