Could labour mobility be a force for a fairer deal for new workers?

Policy makers in employment and industrial relations may be in denial about rates of underpayment amongst new workers, especially student visa workers and youth. Research with student visa holders points to widespread underpayment. Helping these workers to ‘move on’ to a fair workplace could be a practical strategy to reduce exploitation.

Thorough research by Dr Stephen Clibborn, Associate Lecturer in The University of Sydney Business School’s Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies found widespread underpayment amongst students with visas. His survey found that 60% of working students were paid below legal minimums. He concludes that “Australia’s 400,000plus international student guests are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers as they are often young, inexperienced, away from support networks, financially insecure and unaware of employment rights and enforcement institutions.”



A joint Fairfax ABC investigation into students working for 7-Eleven convenience stores by The Age’s Adele Ferguson pointed to widespread and systematic underpayment. Leaked company reports suggest that up to two-thirds of stores are paying workers as little as $10 per hour. In what is being dubbed the ‘half-pay scam’, staff were allegedly paid for only half the hours they work, with time sheets fudged to record hours that met visa limits.

Working with Chinese speaking journalism students, Edunity interviewed a range of current student visa holders about their experiences in Australia, including safety, accommodation and employment. The interviews showed an understanding of minimum wages but an acceptance that most first jobs involved below legal pay. The respondents knew it wasn’t right but felt they had to start somewhere, but hoped and eventually got employment at proper rates. Then the properly paid jobs in respectful workplaces were highly valued.

Other work by Edunity suggests that young workers, especially those desperate for first jobs are at risk of underpayment and even no payment as unpaid interns or trial workers.

Move on to a fair deal

Policy makers should explore ways to support and motivate underpaid workers to move on to a fair deal – quickly and confidently.

Use social – reach out with stories of underpaid people moving on to fair wages, emphasizing the friendlier atmosphere of workplaces that play by the rules

Show how to recover lost wages – step by step instructions to recover of lost wages and benefits after moving on.

Act now to avoid reputation damage – the education industry is important to Australia and negative work experiences are a significant threat to our reputation as a destination of first choice for study. Policy makers should address ’employment risk’ alongside already identified concerns like safety, accommodation and language.

Greg-web Greg Day is a journalist and communications consultant in social issues, including the future of work and grassroot responses to technology disruption.
Twitter @gday_edunity

Teachers squeezed in quest to deliver job skills

A new report from education researchers Edunity shows that Australian teachers are making significant changes to the way they teach and how classes are organised to meet the growing need for a new set of skills for the knowledge economy.

The report, titled Teaching in the Knowledge Economy highlights

• the overwhelming majority of respondents (93%) feel that they need to change the way they teach to meet changing workforce expectations
• a lack of self confidence in this area – no teachers reported feeling that they were ‘leading the way’, though some felt their school as a whole could be considered in this way.
• Problem based learning approaches were identified as an effective means of linking classroom learning and real life.

Teachers identified soft skills like collaboration, self direction, communication and empathy as being key to negotiating a shifting future containing multiple careers and job pathways.

But this knowledge is tempered by limitations in the way these skills can be effectively taught and assessed, in an environment of NAPLAN, PISA and tertiary entrance rankings.

The findings confirm that teachers need more support, in terms of time allocation, useful resources and professional development and more flexibility in assessment to maximise outcomes for their students.

Edunity’s Kathryn McGrath says, “the teachers we spoke to are acutely aware that they need to change the way they teach, and many are doing just that. But there are numerous challenges – in resourcing, in meeting the needs of struggling students, and in finding an effective framework to guide these changes.”

Contact: Kathryn McGrath, Edunity

0414 570 362 or Tweet to @kathmgrath

Get a copy of the report