The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has launched a new strategy aimed at raising awareness of workplace rights among international students.
In an open letter to international students, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James is encouraging international students to get informed about their workplace rights and, if unsure, to seek help.
James has also urged international students to speak up if they have any concerns in relation to their employment, underlining that they have the same workplace rights as all other workers in Australia.
“The number of international students reporting issues to the Fair Work Ombudsman 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,” James said.
“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.
“We’ve seen cases where employers have threatened international students with deportation for working more than the number of hours permitted under their visa when they have raised questions about their entitlements.
“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.
“I would like to reassure international students that in line with an agreement between my agency and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, you can seek our assistance without fear of your visa being cancelled, even if you’ve worked more hours than you should have under your visa.”
Conduct is often “serious” and “highly exploitative”
The conduct against international students the Fair Work Ombudsman sees is often serious and highly exploitative. INCLEAN magazine has previously reported on matters investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman involving the exploitation of international students.
Last financial year, 49 per cent of litigations the Fair Work Ombudsman filed in court involved a visa holder – more than a third of these involving an international student.
Research commissioned by the Fair Work Ombudsman found that many international students were not aware of their rights under Australian workplace laws and did not know where to go for help.
Some students told researchers they had been subject to intimidation by their employers, who threatened to deport or “blacklist” them for future work if they complained.
“The research showed that when it comes to international students in the Australian workplace, 60 per cent believe that if they report a workplace issue to their employer the situation will either remain the same, or get worse,” James said.
“Our international student strategy focuses on raising international students’ awareness of their workplace rights and letting them know that they can come to the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance.
“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,” James said.
The Fair Work Ombudsman now has information available in 30 different languages on its website. The agency also recently launched its Anonymous Report function in 16 languages other than English, enabling non-English speakers to report potential workplace breaches in their own language, without being identified.