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What are the work rights of international students in Australia?

Understanding your work rights in Australia can be challenging
Understanding your work rights in Australia can be challenging.

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If you're an international student, your work rights are governed by Australian law. But it can be challenging to understand your rights about pay and hours, whilst living and studying in a new country. Dr Laurie Berg, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at University of Technology Sydney, and Bassina Farbenblum, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at UNSW, talk to Australia Plus about what you need to know.

How many hours can an international student work per week?

"Students and their partner can work up to 40 hours per fortnight while the course is in session, and unlimited hours when the course is not in session. Students undertaking Masters or Doctoral studies have unlimited work rights [about their hours]" says Dr Berg, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at University of Technology Sydney.

"Take, for example, Sajeed who is working while studying in Australia on a Vocational Education and Training (subclass 572) visa. If he works ten hours in one week, and then 35 hours the following week, he'll be breaching his visa conditions."

Anthony Cheng
Anthony Cheng is happy with the amount of hours he can work.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

Anthony Cheng is an international student from China and is currently studying his Master of Professional Accounting.

What is the minimum hourly pay?

International students are usually employed on a part-time or casual basis, which affects your pay rate.

"Part-time employees have regular, guaranteed hours each week, and they receive conditions like paid annual leave and paid sick leave. Casual employees work on an hourly or daily basis and are less likely to have regular or guaranteed hours of work. Casual employees don’t get paid sick leave or annual leave," says Dr Berg.

Roumani Alabd
Roumani Alabd has found work above the minimum hourly rate.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

Roumani Alabd is an international student from Egypt who is currently studying his Master of Biomedical Engineering.

What do you get paid on weekends and public holidays?

"Under modern awards, many workers are entitled to penalty rates when they work at nights, on weekends or on public holidays," says Dr Berg.

"For instance, Soshana is a 20 year old student working as casual commercial cleaner under the Cleaning Services Award. She is entitled to $23.64/hr basic pay, $26.47/hr for a night shift, $33.09/hr on a Saturday and $52/hr on a public holiday."

Public holidays in Australia include Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day and Australia Day.

How many weeks of holidays are you entitled to?

"Part-time workers receive a number of days of paid annual leave and paid sick leave, depending on what proportion of a full time position they work. (Full time workers - working 38 hours per week - are entitled to 4 weeks annual leave)" says Dr Berg.

"Casual employees are not entitled to paid leave." 

Tiziana Zingali is an international student from Italy who is currently studying her PhD in science.

What can you do if your rights are breached by your employer?

Bassina Farbenblum, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at UNSW Australia, advises the following:

  1. "Contact the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) on the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 or through an interpreter service on 13 14 50.  The FWO may point the worker to relevant materials on their website to help them work out their entitlements, or may contact the employer. In a small number of cases, the FWO may provide further help to the worker or may investigate further.  
  2. Contact the relevant trade union.  Unions can take a range of actions on behalf of a worker who is a member, including directly negotiating with the employer to pay the worker’s outstanding entitlements. 
  3. Contact a community legal centre or specialist legal service.  A number of these provide free advice and assistance to write a letter of demand to the employer, and in a small number of cases will represent the worker in a claim against the employer.
  4. File a claim in Small Claims Court.  Though this option is open to anyone, and a guide to filing a claim is available on the FWO web site, most international students will likely require advice and assistance to do this."

UNSW, UTS and the University of Sydney are inviting anyone who is working, or has worked, in Australia on a temporary visa to participate in a survey. The survey is available in ten languages (including traditional and simplified Chinese, Indonesian and Vietnamese) and is open until 24 December 2016. Bassina says the survey results will be used "to make recommendations to government and service providers that address the experiences and the needs of temporary visa holders.”

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