In 2019, the Migrant Justice Institute investigated the working conditions of international students around the country. The disappointing, yet unfortunately predictable conclusion of their survey was that the overwhelming majority of those interviewed (approximately 77%) were subject to wage theft, underpayment and frequent violations of labour rights.
Four years later, there remains a glaring lack of support to protect international students from exploitation. Institutions (including universities) continue to view international students as lucrative revenue streams. The food service industry is a hotspot for such exploitation, facilitated by the high rates of casual employment and high turnover rates.
John is an international student studying at Macquarie University. He began working at a popular Indian dining establishment.
John is not the only international student working at the restaurant. The opportunity came through a friend, another international student. Many of the employees were international students or those on working visas, with some hired directly from India.
After reviewing his payslips, John found out that he was being exploited. Despite the payslips indicating an hourly wage of $31, he was actually paid $18. John said that the “Managers exploited us… they have to pay us at least the minimum wage of $24 per hour. The extra six dollars? That went straight to their pockets.”
Not only was the rate on the payslip a fabrication, the pay he received was $5 under the legal adult minimum wage rate of $23.
The managers would punish their employees in demeaning ways if they were disappointed with their work. John described how after accidentally breaking a few glasses, John was ordered to clean the entire store, including the toilets — these tasks went beyond the work he had been trained in.
The restaurant is a popular and recognisable eatery in Sydney, spanning multiple locations with patrons often being required to wait an average of 30 minutes to be served.
On an average night, John said that 45 tables would be continuously occupied and turned over about 80 times throughout the shift, producing a turnover rate of 3500 tables. The restaurant was often understaffed for these demands — there were only six employees, including John, working these peak hours, leading to additional tasks falling on their shoulders.
Workers were required to do heavy lifting and extending cleaning duties — without compensation. Even after completing their rostered hours, they were not allowed to leave until all tasks were completed — again without compensation. This meant that employees were not being paid for overtime or penalty rates.
During a 10-hour shift, John and his colleagues were given only 30 minutes of unpaid break time, another legal violation, as establishments are required to give workers an hour break for every 8 hours worked. These breaks were also without compensation.
International students are vulnerable for exploitation — often dealing with a lack of a support system and language barriers. More work must be done to support international students.
If you are being exploited in your workplace, you can obtain support through Fair Work. Fair Work has a guide with advice for migrant workers.