Government must act to prevent exploitation of student workers

The ACT Government must ensure that measures are introduced to prevent the serious and systematic workplace exploitation of local and international students.

Both domestic and international students who take on part-time work face serious underpayments in the hospitality, retail and contract cleaning industries.

Exploitation can include underpayments, no access to workers’ compensation, non-payment of superannuation, and unsafe working conditions. Hospitality and contract cleaning are especially notorious for serious and widespread violations of workplace laws.

As the newest cohort of students from around Australia and the world arrive in Canberra, the ACT Government must ensure that this illegal and unethical behaviour is prevented.

International student education is the ACT’s largest export industry, and the sector employs many thousands of people at institutions like the ANU and University of Canberra.

Last year, underpayments of student workers, both domestic and international, were exposed at local ACT companies including Crust Gourmet Pizza, Penny University and Grill’d Burgers, not to mention the ongoing exploitation crisis at 7-Eleven. Underpayments in some cases totalled over ten thousand dollars.

The following statements can be attributed to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“Students who work are particularly vulnerable to shonky employers, and as many as sixty percent of students are paid less than the minimum wage.

“This is a particular problem for overseas students, who are less likely to be aware of their rights in the workplace.

“There are no specialist support services for students who experience exploitation at work, such as bullying, harassment, unsafe working conditions or underpayments.

“We know that many international students feel too scared to report exploitation when it does occur for fear of having their visa cancelled.

“The ACT government has a duty of care to student workers, and especially to ensure that international students are not targeted by unethical employers.

“Funding is needed for specialised and independent legal support for young and student workers, to increase their knowledge of workplace rights and to settle workplace issues before they become too serious.

“UnionsACT is pleased that higher education is a distinct portfolio under new minister Meegan Fitzharris. We hope to work with her on protecting student workers’ rights.”