Chinese corporations normally pay less than $12 for international students, especially Chinese students who are desperate for jobs across Sydney.
Some of the corporations only give the students chances to work as so-called internship workers without any payment. And the students will not be guaranteed for future salaries.
The wage of most jobs listed in two Chinese websites tigtag.com and sydneytoday.com are displayed “negotiable”. After calling several companies’ numbers, the result shows most of the employers offer lower than $12 an hour. While the minimum legal wage in Australia is $16.87.
The underpayment of Australian restaurants and cafes was exposed as early as the year of 2013, when a major Fairfax Media investigation discovered that more than 40 restaurants were paying their employees $8 an hour.
The situation in Chinese work places is not better that not only the restaurants and cafes exploit international students. Many of the illegal corporations are agencies, convenient shops and even IT companies.
Chinese student Vicky Li majored in Information Technology has worked part-time in a small Chinese IT company, and was paid $8 an hour after one month’s no-payment work. She also has worked at a Chinese restaurant near her living place.
“It is very difficult to find an internship in a local IT company because of the language barrier. However, small Chinese IT companies will not offer you actual salary at most time.” Vicky said.
She revealed that the manager of the company is a friend of her aunt. Otherwise she will not get any payment. She knew other Chinese students or even Australian citizen who was originally from China working in this small company were paid nothing.
These companies are taking advantages of the international students, because of their needs for working experience. The employers want to run the firm without paying one dollar for the workers.
Another Chinese student has worked in an agency company helping people dealing with their visa and school applications. “The boss gave promise that if we finished three months’ internship, he will consider about paying us wages according to our performances.” He said. “But the boss will never be satisfied with your work, and now I have quit from it.”
I tried to approach the managers from those companies, but no reply was made. However, a Chinese international student revealed that the manager was talking about the high cost of rent and other infrastructures that he cannot offer more to a part-time worker.
Most of the Chinese students are working without contracts. They get the money either by cash or bank transfer without paying the tax. These students ignore the restriction of 40 work hours every fortnight, and are vulnerable to be deported back to China.
These students are called “black workers” translated from Chinese. “It’s a very common phenomenon in Chinese work places in Sydney.” Said by Gao, who is a Chinese student studying at UNSW and working in a restaurant near the university. “The boss told us that we should not worry about being punished by the government for overtime employment.”
“We don’t have choice to get higher payments, because every Chinese restaurant gives you such low wages. So I have to work longer.” Gao added and expressed her discontent about the situation.
According to the report by the Department of Education and Training of Australian Government, Chinese international students enrolled in Australian schools was the largest group among all the nationalities. The population rose up to 152,898 by the end of 2014. However, the work opportunities are not enough.
Stephanie Zhao told me that the restaurant she worked in had many backup part-time labors. “If you don’t want this job, others will replace you. The boss won’t care.” She said.
Stephanie had to work at free time and earn $10 an hour, despite the very heavy workload in university. “The life cost here in Sydney is very high, my wage for one week cannot even cover my room rent in the city.”
Australia is the most expensive destination for international students in the world.
“I was not born in a very rich family, only work and study at the same time can help to reduce my parents’ load.” Zhao felt helpless and upset.
Clifton Evers was an Australian teacher now working in a Chinese university. He previously taught the language course in Sydney and had known some worse situations. Many of his Chinese students were earning less than $8 an hour in 2010.
“I asked them why they didn’t try to work in a local company and many told me that they thought their English wasn’t good enough.” Evers said.
He encouraged his students to get out of the comfort zone and tried harder if they didn’t want to be exploited. Some of them did have breakthroughs.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is the department that is actually responsible for the working conditions in Australia. But the Ombudsman makes little difference every year regarding to the amount of complaints and inquiries. In 2012, the number of complaints reached 52,000. $1.1 million wages were clawed back last year for about 700 visa holders.
The foreign workers were often not fully aware of their rights under Australian laws in workplace. “Youth, language and cultural barriers” could be the reasons that made them vulnerable to be exploited.
“We are foreign students, and we have no idea of our rights. What we can do is to be stronger.” Said by Vicky.