Many international students chose to work when they come to study in the ACT. Working in Australia as an international student can be a positive experience but for many it can also mean being vulnerable to lots of different forms of exploitation.

What are my rights as a visa worker?

If you’re working on a visa, you have all the same rights as domestic workers, but you may have limits on how much work or the types of work you can do. You can find out what your rights and entitlements are by checking the award or agreement that applies to your industry or workplace. These are legal documents that set out exactly how much you should be paid, your leave, superannuation and more. They can be quite difficult to understand (or even to find) for most young workers so if you need help, contact the Young Workers Centre.

Here are some of the rights everyone has at work:

  • You should be paid at least the minimum wage
  • You should be paid for all the hours you work (including meetings and training)
  • Your employer must provide you with a detailed payslip within one day of paying you
  • You have the right to a safe and healthy workplace
  • You have the right to be free from bullying, harassment and discrimination at work
  • You have the right to join a union and assert your rights

What should I look out for from my employer?

Cash-in-hand jobs

Cash-in-hand jobs are illegal but they may be tempting to accept – especially when you need the money. Often they come with a whole range of other illegal practices as well that’ll make you much worse off in the long run. For example, if you’re getting paid cash-in-hand without a payslip or superannuation, then it’s likely you’re also not on their records as an employee and won’t compensated if you get injured or sick at work.

Cash-back schemes

There is no circumstance where an employer should be asking you to pay back some of your wages in cash. This illegal practice is often used by dishonest employers so that their electronic records show that you are being paid correctly while they steal your wages in cash. Contact the Young Workers Centre immediately if your employer asks you to give them money for any reason.

Forced visa breaches

International students sometimes must work more hours than their visa allows to make up for lost income because they are getting illegally paid below minimum wage. Dishonest employers sometimes use the fact that you have not complied with your visa conditions, to coerce you into accepting their poor working conditions. It’s important to know that your employer cannot cancel your visa and that if you do come forward about an issue in your workplace, it is very likely that your visa will not be cancelled. If you’re in doubt, the Young Workers Centre can provide confidential advice.

What can you do to protect yourself at work?

Make sure you’re informed about your rights before you start work so that you can recognise when your employer is doing the wrong thing. You can read lots of information about your pay, superannuation, work health and safety and more in the other fact sheets on this website.

Joining a union when you start work is a good way to protect yourself from illegal activity. Everyone has the right to join a union, regardless of your visa status. Unions are a collective of workers, standing together to support each other through issues at work and helping to improve your pay and conditions.

If you are already experiencing an issue at work, you can contact us at the Young Workers Centre for help. If this is you, email us at youngworkerscbr@unionsact.org.au.

Authorised by M Harrison for UnionsACT, 11 London Circuit, Canberra ACT 2601.

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