If you are an international student living in Australia, you either have a job (or several jobs) or know other foreign students who work. Very often, international students take on casual or part-time jobs in order to cover the high living expenses and to gain industrial experience. But first, it is to your advantage to ask this question:
Are you familiar with your obligations and minimum rights while working in Australia?
Here are a few things you ought to be aware of if you decide to work as an international student:
1. Know your maximum working hours
Typically, international students are permitted to work for a maximum of 40 hours every fortnight when the semester is in session and unlimited hours when the course is not in session, i.e. during semester breaks and holidays. If you are a postgraduate research student, however, you have the right to work full-time.
According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), you are entitled to this working right once your course in Australia commences. For more information on your visa entitlements, you can visit the following websites:
- Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP)
- Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO)
2. Understand taxation in Australia
As long as you reside in Australia for more than six months, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) considers you a ‘resident for tax purposes’. Thus, most international students are Australian residents for tax purposes. This is not to be confused with the type of visa you are granted by the DIBP. You can be an Australian resident for tax purposes even though you are not an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
As such, you are required to obtain a Tax File Number (TFN) and lodge an income tax return at the end of each financial year (30 June). If you are leaving Australia after your studies, be sure to find out about lodging your tax return early. Visit the ATO website for more information about your tax obligations, or start with these helpful links:
- Work out your residency status for tax purposes
- Get a Tax File Number
- Submit an income tax return
3. Know that you are protected
While it is important to abide by rules and restrictions, it is also crucial to know your rights in the workplace so as to not be vulnerable to exploitation. Everyone who works in Australia is protected by Australian law, and you are entitled to basic rights at work, including:
- a minimum wage
- reasonable breaks or rest
- a healthy and safe working environment
4. Know how much you should be paid
The current national minimum wage is $18.29 per hour. However, the base rate for each employee depends on the industry, type of employment, and the specific award or agreement. The national minimum wage is reviewed every year on 1 July. To keep up with the latest national minimum wage, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) website.
In addition, casual employees are entitled to what is called a ‘casual loading’, resulting in a higher hourly rate than full-time or part-time employees, because they do not receive benefits such as paid leave.
Many employees under modern awards are also entitled to ‘penalty rates’, which are special pay rates for working during nights, weekends or public holidays. You can use the Pay and Conditions Tool (PACT) to calculate your minimum pay rate and penalty rates based on the particular award under which you are covered.
5. Know what is NOT okay
As mentioned, every person who works in Australia, including casual workers, is protected by law. Some illegal practices may exploit international students, taking advantage of their desperate need to earn quick bucks for daily expenses. However, if you find yourself in any of the following situations, you should take immediate action and not be exploited further:
- Unpaid work trials for unreasonably long periods of time
- Not being given a pay slip
- Being given goods and services instead of pay
- Being forced, pressured or threatened to sign a work agreement
- Being rejected employment or removed from a position because of your race, religion, skin colour, sexual orientation, political opinion, etc.
- Personal document, such as passport, being confiscated by employer
Read more about general workplace protections that you are entitled to on the FWO website.
6. Report and seek help if exploited
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is a brilliant platform to seek information and help regarding this issue. Its website provides ample information about international students’ rights at work. It is advisable to look up information about what is permissible and not permissible at work, including your minimum rights and conditions.
If you believe you have been exploited, or if you think you have not received your minimum rights and conditions at work, you may contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for advice and assistance.
Since work, for many, is very much a part of the international student experience, it is essential that you enhance your knowledge on your work rights and conditions in order to make the most out of your Aussie experience!
By sharing these available resources, you can also help other students, increasing awareness and letting them know where to get the help that they need.
Enjoy working and don’t forget to excel in your studies too. Good luck! 🙂