27 July 2009
Watchdog helps to educate international students on workplace rights
In an effort to help international students avoid being exploited at work, the Fair Work Ombudsman will conduct a workplace rights information session at the University of Newcastle this week.
The information session will be held on Friday, July 31, from 12.30pm to 1.30pm at Room SRLT2 on the University’s Callaghan campus.
The session will be run in conjunction with the Newcastle Trades Hall Council and the University of Newcastle. There is no cost and bookings are not required.
The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Newcastle-based team of inspectors will also conduct a series of targeted audits of hospitality businesses in Newcastle in coming weeks to ensure employers are complying with workplace laws.
Fair Work Ombudsman Hunter Regional Manager Peter Schmarr says no complaints have been received directly from international students in Newcastle but inspectors want to be proactive.
“International students are vulnerable to exploitation because they are often not fully aware of their workplace rights under Australian laws,” Mr Schmarr said.
“Youth, language and cultural barriers can also make it difficult for them to negotiate their employment conditions.
“The best defence for an international student against exploitation is an awareness of their workplace rights.
“International students have the same rights as any other worker in Australia.”
Mr Schmarr says the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Newcastle office is currently compiling a list of Newcastle hospitality businesses for audit.
“We will be checking the employment records of businesses and talking to employees with the aim of ensuring international students are being paid properly and treated fairly,” Mr Schmarr said.
“We have not placed a limit on the number of businesses we will audit. We’ll audit as many businesses as we need to to achieve our objectives.
"We would also encourage any international student who is concerned they're being treated unfairly to pick up the phone and call us on 13 13 94.
“A free translating and interpreter service is available by calling 13 14 50.
“You can speak to our inspectors confidentially and we will treat every allegation seriously.”
Mr Schmarr says Fair Work inspectors are committed to educating and assisting Newcastle employers to voluntarily rectify any non-compliance issues they have but warned the Agency would not hesitate to prosecute employers found to be deliberately exploiting their workforce.
“If we do go to court, employers caught breaching workplace laws and deliberately taking advantage of foreign workers face severe penalties,” he said.
The highest penalty achieved by the Fair Work Ombudsman was $288,000 earlier this year against small Adelaide cleaning company Saya Pty Ltd, which underpaid two vulnerable workers - an 18-year-old female and a newly-arrived migrant from Iraq - less than $4000.
The Fair Work Ombudsman promotes harmonious, productive and co-operative workplaces.
The FWO website - www.fwo.gov.au - now contains translated information in 23 different languages aimed at helping those from a non-English speaking background.
Craig Bildstien, Director Media & Stakeholder Relations,
0419 818 484
Ryan Pedler, Media & Stakeholder Relations Senior Adviser
(03) 9954 2561, 0434 365 924