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Know Your Rights at Work: A Guide for International Students in Australia

Did you know that as an international student in Australia, you’re permitted to work up to 20 hours per week?

Work is an essential part of life for many studying in Australia, and not just because it allows you to earn some extra income. It’s also a great way to practise your English, make some new friends and become a part of society in your new home!

Unfortunately, some foreign students can end up in jobs where they are being exploited because they’re not aware of Australian rules and regulations.

If you’re from overseas, it’s really important that you get to know the workplace laws that exist to protect your rights at work.


Before you start your first shift at your new job, read this essential guide on your rights at work (and a few risks to watch out for).


The basics: casual versus part-time employment

When you start looking for work, one of the first things you may notice is that some jobs are advertised as ‘part-time’ while some are ‘casual’. These are two different types of work according to Australian law. As a casual or part-time employee, you are entitled to different pay rates and benefits.


Most international students will end up in ‘casual work’. This is the most common type of work available for students, mostly in the hospitality and retail sectors.


Do you know what your award wage is?

The Fair Work Ombudsman outlines that an employee and employer can enter into a wage agreement covered by either a modern award, national minimum wage, or registered agreement.


A modern award sets out the minimum pay rates and employment conditions based on the industry you operate in, and the type of job you hold. Take a look at this helpful guide to hospitality, cleaning services and retail awards, to find out the modern award appropriate to your job.


The national minimum wage in Australia is currently $18.93 per hour. Casual employees also get a minimum of 25% casual loading if they are covered by this rate, which means that you should receive an additional $4.70 per hour.


A registered agreement or enterprise agreement is a document agreed upon between an employer and employee that defines the worker’s employment conditions. This type of agreement only applies to one business, and it has to be approved by the Fair Work Commission. This is a type of agreement you should be a little sceptical of because companies using this award do not have to pay a wage according to the industry or the national minimum. They may be trying to pay you less.



Are you entitled to ‘penalty rates?’

As explained above, your award determines the benefits and conditions of your job. As a casual employee, you are often entitled to ‘penalty rates.’ These are pay increases that are applied when you work overtime, on public holidays, Sundays or during late night or early morning shifts. Check your award online, and make sure you discuss this with your employer.


Avoid ‘cash in hand’ jobs

Some unethical employers will promise you cash work that seems legitimate, but in actual fact, they are paying you ‘off the books.’ This means that you’re being employed illegally, and without an award agreement in place to protect your rights.


Cash in hand jobs often have very low rates of pay, and they allow employers to avoid paying tax and insurance. If you’re injured at work, you won’t be able to claim compensation!


How do you know if your employer is offering an illegal cash job?


Firstly, ask to see an award contract before you start your job. Or if you’re already working, you need to see payslips, with a registered company on them. If you don’t receive either of these things, you may be employed illegally.


Check your monthly pay slips

Each month, you will receive a payslip detailing your working hours and your pay. Don’t just go home and put it away, look at it as soon as you receive it. Sometimes, employers will accidentally (or intentionally!) try and pay you for fewer hours than you actually worked.


Calculate your own hours according to your roster, and check these against the hours listed on the payslip each month.


Are you feeling bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work?

Did you know that workplace discrimination and sexual harassment are against the law in Australia? If you feel bullied, unsafe, afraid or discriminated against at work, the first thing you need to do is to tell someone about it. Your educational institution has student support services available to help you figure out how to deal with this or any other situation. If you ever feel in any immediate danger, don’t hesitate to call the police on 000.


As an international student in Australia, you are entitled to join a union or to make a complaint with the Ombudsman or the Human Rights Commission.

If you have a complaint or want to know more about your rights, contact the Australian Human Rights Commission by calling 1300 656 419. Find out more from The Commonwealth Fairwork Ombudsman website. Or, take a look at the ACTU search engine to see what union you might be able to join.


Source: Fair Work’s Twitter account


For any questions about student support services available at MIT, please email


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