The exploitation of Student Visa holders formed a major part of the inquiry by the Senate Committee into how the Temporary Work Visa programs in Australia impact our labour market and visa holders. The report was released in mid-March 2016 and focused predominantly on the wages, conditions, safety and entitlement of international student visa holders.

What are Student Visas?

These are various visas that a person can apply for to study in Australia which depend on the type of study they choose to undertake. All eligible students holding these types of visas are permitted to work twenty hours per week during the course of their studies.

Student visa holders have to establish that they have sufficient funds to cover the cost of living and to meet their tuition and travel costs while studying in Australia. This makes these visa holders different to Temporary Work (Skilled) (Subclass 457) visa holders as they are not dependent on their employer for their continued residence in Australia.
However, there may be financial pressure upon the students which can increase their vulnerability. For example, international students have to pay international student fees and have limited access to government payments.

Exploitation of Students

The report sets out several areas of concern for student visa holders including:

  • Underpayment for hours worked;
  • Lack of entitlements;
  • Payment less than the national minimum wage or not being paid penalty rates;
  • Undocumented labour;
  • Unpaid training;
  • Lack of Superannuation payments;
  • Unfair dismissal;
  • Discrimination;
  • Threats and intimidation;
  • Visa cancellation;
  • Threats of deportation; and
  • Payment of sponsorship to move onto a 457 work visa.

Investigation into Exploitative Practices

While the committee were conducting their inquiry, there were a number of media investigations which exposed a range of exploitative practices against temporary work visa holders.

The first investigation by Four Corners on the ABC revealed the exploitation of certain groups of migrant workers in the meat processing and horticulture industries. It discovered that many workers were being underpaid, expected to work long hours and live in sub-standard conditions. The second investigation, jointly conducted by Four Corners and Fairfax Media, revealed that 7-Eleven franchisees were misrepresenting employment records, underpaying their staff and not providing international students working on temporary visas with their entitlements in many of their convenience stores across Australia.

The committee conducted their own inquiries into these matters and received considerable evidence that the 7-Eleven franchises were involved in all of the areas of concern outlined above. In particular, they were known to have enticed or coerced international student workers to breach their visa conditions by working more than twenty hours per week as their visa conditions permitted. This meant that the majority of the hours worked was undocumented and unpaid.

Since the investigation, 7-Eleven announced the establishment of an independent panel to examine claims of underpayment to their staff. The Fels Wage Fairness Panel had received more than 2000 submissions by early February 2016 and had made almost 200 determinations of payment for more than four million dollars.

There are still many barriers to more workers coming forward including fear of deportation and threats and intimidation by the franchisees. If you have any questions as an employee or an employer about these issues, get in touch with our Employment Lawyers on 1300 544 755.

This article is the second part of our series on the exploitation of Temporary Work visa holders. Read our article on the treatment of Temporary Work (Skilled) (Subclass 457) visa holders.

Lachlan McKnight

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