Over three-quarters of international students at the age of 20 or above had been paid below the minimum casual hourly salary, with 20 percent receiving $12 per hour or less, according to the International Students and Wage Theft in Australia report published last year.
Although the majority of underpaid international students in Australia know they are being exploited by their employers, only ten percent of these students decided to undertake actions about their situation, whereas only 18 percent went to report to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), the 2016 National Temporary Migrant Work Survey had found.
A 25-year-old Indonesian student said she was expecting to spend her past six months in Australia doing an internship or getting a part-time job in international business, which is her field of study.
However, she ended up doing two jobs for which she is paid cash and less than the legal minimum casual wage of $24.80 per hour, receiving $18 an hour in an inner-city restaurant and $15 an hour in a Hawthorn café.
“Any job is better than nothing. My education is my priority at the moment. So even though I don’t have a nine-to-five job, [it’s OK] as long as I have these jobs,” she told ABC.
The director of the University of Adelaide’s public law and policy research unit, Alex Reilly, said that despite being paid below the legal minimum wage, an essential number of international students say they are “satisfied” with their jobs.
Last year, Reilly was the co-author of a paper identifying why this can happen, hoping to remove misconceptions and motivate international students to prevent unfair working conditions.
“The aim of the article was to better understand the motivations for international students working, and why they’re prepared to work for wages that are below the minimum legal wage,” Reilly said.
He emphasized that many international students do not work only for wages, as they also want to gain work experience, get to know Australians, as well as improve their English language skills.
According to a survey conducted by Reilly and his colleagues, 56.9 percent of international students said they were happy to have a job and “were grateful to their employers.” Furthermore, the survey also found that 32.4 percent of underpaid international students said they were happy with the salary as their friends were also receiving similar payments.
Reilly said that one of the reasons why some international students did not want to report their cases was because they believed it could affect their visas. Nevertheless, he added that international students should not be afraid to report how they are being treated in the workplace, as the FWO will keep their information confidential and will not share it with other departments, while FWO also pointed out that international students’ visas would not be affected if the latter report their situation.
Due to a reduced number of international students in Australia, with 43,000 fewer overseas students enrolled at the country’s universities compared to a year earlier, Reilly highlighted that there is an urgent need for workers, especially in the horticulture industry.