Workers at EasyWay Tea in the Jane Foss Russell building on campus are paid as little as $10 to $14 an hour, according to some employees.
Students are allegedly offered pay of $10 per hour during their training stage, although that period can last for over a month, and paid up to $14 per hour otherwise.
This is well below the minimum wage in Australia, and would likely constitute a breach of the Fair Work Act 2009.
Honi understands that most of the workers employed at EasyWay on campus are international students studying at the University of Sydney.
“I was shocked at first but later on I accepted it,” an employee told Honi. “I feel it is a little low, but since it is [on] the campus and easy to go to work I feel like it is acceptable.”
International students may sometimes agree to work for a lesser wage in order to work more hours in a week, because their student visas mandate that they can only work for a maximum of 40 hours a fortnight. However, some of EasyWay’s employees who are underpaid work on a casual basis, for example only two days a week, and therefore would fall below the maximum threshold of hours worked.
Difficulty finding employment, language barriers and the knowledge that this behaviour is common practice in Australia are among reasons that international students are susceptible to exploitation in the workplace.
The employee that spoke to Honi on condition of anonymity admitted there was apathy amongst their co-workers about their wages, and a willingness to accept the conditions.
While the underpayment of students’ wages across the fast food and hospitality sectors has been widely reported, the news that the practice extends to the University of Sydney campus itself may come as a surprise to some.
EasyWay leases its space from the University of Sydney Union (USU), though the building is owned by the University itself, which means that it employs its own staff and manages its business without any direct USU involvement. Tenants of USU spaces are, however, required to abide by relevant state and federal legislation in paying their employees, as part of the terms of their contract with the USU.
“We expect all our tenants to abide by relevant employment legislation,” said USU President Michael Rees. “We treat allegations of non-compliance seriously and investigate them as appropriate.”
The fast food award rate for adults 21 years and over in Australia is $24.30 per hour; at least $10 more per hour than what EasyWay is reportedly paying some of its adult staff. The award for 20-year-olds is $21.88 an hour, and for 19-year-olds it is $19.44.
EasyWay is open for 57 hours each week and Honi understands it usually rosters on three staff members at a time. If each staff member was 21 or over and each was being underpaid by $10 an hour, EasyWay would be cutting $1,710 in wages each week. Over a 13-week semester, this would amount to $22,230.
The underpayment of international students in Sydney has been a growing issue in recent years, with multiple investigations by Fairfax into the extent of the exploitation of workers.
In 2016, a survey of 1400 students by the University of Sydney Business School found that 80 per cent of international students working in restaurants across the city reported being exploited, with up to 35 per cent of students surveyed saying they received as little as $12 an hour for their labour. The survey found that 60 per cent of international students surveyed were paid below the minimum wage of $17.29 at the time across all industries.
“Students are routinely hired by employers who exploit their lack of knowledge of Australian workplace laws and employ them as cheap labour,” according to the Redfern Legal Centre. “This is a growing systemic issue for many international students.”
There are 94 EasyWay stores across Australia, most of which are franchises, and Honi makes no presumption about the wages paid at those stores.
Honi has reached out to the USyd EasyWay for comment, but received no response at the time of publication.