Working as an international student Down Under? Know your rights in 6 steps!

Working as an international student Down Under? Know your rights in 6 steps!

Working as an international student Down Under? Know your rights in 6 steps!

Working on an international student visa?
Want to make the most out of it? Here are our top tips!

Author:  Bryna (Marketing and Sales Strategist: iDibs)
Special thanks: Francesca and team from International Students Work Rights Legal Service

It is essential that you learn your work rights as you do not want to be mistreated during your period of study or stay in Australia!

Each article includes important need-to-know information and videos such as:

Know “who’s the boss!”
Know your rights, your responsibilities, your position.
Work out how much your work’s worth.
Record everything. Keep everything.
If you ever need to speak up about something that isn’t right, do it.
If you have been treated unfairly, you can get help for FREE!

Below are a few points you might want to look out for (TLDR version):

Know “who’s the boss!”
Don’t underestimate how many people don’t actually know who they’re working for. Make sure you know who your boss is, and what company you’re actually working under. Get your boss’ full name! If you’re working for a company, find out their Australian Business Number (ABN)!

Worst case scenario and something goes wrong, these details will help you exercise your rights as an international student and as an employee.
(Psst! Here’s a link to find out more about ABN’s:

Know your rights, your responsibilities, your position.
If you’re asking yourself: “am I an independent contractor… or an employee?”, and don’t know the answer… here’s a quick summary!  
Employee = different rights than an independent contractor; and vice versa.

work for someone else’s business. If you’re an employee, you have rights to:

  • A minimum wage;
  • Superannuation, and;
  • Other entitlements under Australian employment laws.
  • Sick leave and Annual leave (Full or Part-time only, casual staff are not entitled to leave loading)

You’re covered by your employer’s insurance policies along with Work Cover, (every Australian business is required to maintain Work Cover insurance). Your income tax is also deducted by your employer and you are entitled under law to receive a payslip clearly outlining your pay, any tax withheld and if necessary, superannuation paid on your behalf. Check your superannuation is being paid to your account at least quarterly.

On the other hand, if you’re an independent contractor, you are running your own business (woohoo!), and using an ABN. You:

  • Don’t have a minimum pay rate…
  • Instead, you’ll be negotiating pay! (It’s part of the contract);
  • Have to pay for your own tax and superannuation, and;
  • Have to have your own insurance.
  • No sick or annual leave.

Here’s where you gotta WATCH OUT. Some employers will tell you that you’re an independent contractor when you’re actually an employee. This, my dear friends, is breaking the law. It’s called sham contracting. Keep an eye out for this as it is used by employers to avoid having to pay legal entitlements (minimum wage & superannuation) to you.

The (1) nature of your work, and your (2) relationship with your boss will be the two determining factors of whether or not you are an employee or an independent contractor. You can sign a contract saying you’re an independent contractor, you can be working with an ABN, but you may very well still be an employee. So do check!

Want more information? (You should.) Here’s a link for more detailed information on whether or not you’re an independent contractor or an employee. (CLICK IT!):

If your shady boss is asking you to get an ABN and you don’t think you’re really running a business, you can seek legal advice or call the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.

Work out how much your work’s worth.

In Australia, all employees get a minimum wage.
How much you’re getting paid and what impacts your pay rate depends on a few things. Here are a few examples:

  • Working full-time, part-time, or casual;
  • Is your industry covered by an Award? ( Some industries that are covered by awards are: cleaning, retail, hospitality, and construction;
  • Is your employer covered by an enterprise agreement OR other registered agreement ( ; usually for large-scale companies like fast food chains);
  • No award? No enterprise agreement? Then this is your national minimum wage:

Want to work out how much you should be getting paid? Here’s what you can do.

  • Use the Fair Work Ombudsman Pay and Conditions Tool (P.A.C.T.) to find out which Award applies to you and what your minimum pay rate is:; AND/OR
  • CALL 13 94 94 (Fair Work Ombudsman) to speak to someone about your correct pay rate.

Record everything. Keep everything (Type A people, you’ll love this part).

Keep record of your shifts!!! Dates and times when you work… record it. Even if your employer tells you that you don’t have to because they already are. Sometimes — not all the time, but sometimes — workers find out that they’re being underpaid… if this happens to you, and you’ve been following TIP#4 (#1, #2, and #3, too, actually) of this amazing article, then you can show your clear records and it’ll be SO MUCH EASIER to get your money back.

You should also keep a record of your employment contract.


An employment contract does not have to be a fancy legal document. It can be verbal, in writing, or a combination of both; all you need is some sort of agreement about the terms of your employment. If you’ve been texting or emailing your boss about working days and rate of pay, that can be YOUR EMPLOYMENT ‘CONTRACT’!!!


If you’re not the best at record-keeping (no shame, I completely relate), you can download the Fair Work Ombudsman’s ‘Record My Hours’ app for FREE! (!!!

If you ever need to speak up about something that isn’t right, do it (We’ve got you covered).
By law, you’re protected! We get that it can be very scary to complain to your employer about something that isn’t right (being underpaid, unfair treatment at the workplace, bullying). Well, don’t be.
YOU CAN EXERCISE YOUR RIGHTS AT WORK! So, if you make a complaint about unfair or unsafe work, or even ask for fair pay (or if you help someone else make a complaint about unfair treatment), it is UNLAWFUL for your employer to take negative action against you. They can’t cut your shifts, demote you, or even fire you. If they do, claim for compensation. If you speak up and something happens, GET LEGAL ADVICE IMMEDIATELY! You only have 21 days to make a claim if you’ve been fired unfairly.


If you have been treated unfairly, you can get help for FREE!
Cross my fingers, nothing bad happens to you… but if it does and you’re at work, or if something happens that doesn’t sit well with you, you should ask for help. There are so many places where you can get legal advice and assistance for FREE.

  • Want a F-2-F (face to face) appointment? Go to:
    • The International Students Work Rights Legal Service (call or visit the Study Melbourne Student Centre – link: - to make an appointment)
    • Your local community legal centre ( can usually provide you with free legal advice. 
  • More comfortable talking over the phone? You can call:
    • The Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 94 94
    • JobWatch on (03) 9662 1933 
  • For online information and assistance:

All of the services above are 100% CONFIDENTIAL! Your information will and cannot be shared with anyone. Employer included. Not without your consent!

The legal process is also controlled by you. The lawyers are only there to assist you, and they’ll do what you ask them to do.

 Those are just a few tips to make sure that you’re stepping into the workforce with the right shoes and the right knowledge. I know what you bring to the table, so don’t let anybody take pieces of that ‘something’ and take you for granted! If you read through this and went: “pssh, I already knew all of this”, then you’re definitely ready to face the Australian work-force head on! We’ll be supporting you from the side-lines.


#1 Solution For Internationals in Australia!

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