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The Cobweb of Part-Time Jobs in Australia

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“Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man”. This has been aptly stated by Swami Vivekananda. Every year thousands of Indian students flock to universities abroad in the hope of experiencing the much-coveted foreign education and leading what is popularly thought to be a luxurious lifestyle. But the reality is quite contrasting to these widespread beliefs.

The point I wish to highlight in this article is about the tremendous difficulties faced by international students while undertaking part time jobs in Australia. Legally, under the terms and conditions of the visa, an international student is permitted to work up to 20 hours per week and 40 hours a fortnight. There is no limit on the number of working hours during vacations (which constitute around 4-5 months in the total study period, assuming two years masters’ degree). On the face of it, this appears to be a very reasonable and generous provision. Students (who often have a massive loan burden), assume they can cover up most of their living expenses coupled with additional spending on travel and leisure.

Australian Dollar

However, a closer look at the Australian legal system and the job sector provides astonishing results. Approximately, only a quarter of formal established companies prefer to take international students for part-time jobs. A callous attitude of employers coupled with distrust towards international students, leads to many of them not being able to find jobs in their preferred interest areas, to gain industry experience.

As a result of this, many are forced to take up casual jobs in fast-food chains, restaurants, and retail stores. The labour laws of Australia (popularly called the Fair Work Ombudsman) prescribe a minimum wage of 22 Australian dollars (AUD) per hour. However, even a cursory look at these wages hints at widespread exploitation of international students, with many being paid as low as AUD 5-10 per hour.

Employers play around this rule by not accounting the overtime work. Let us say an international student works for 40 hours in a restaurant which is more than allowed limit – the employer shows only 20 hours in books and the rest of the 20 hours are not reflected on the records. And the direct consequence of this is that 20 hours never get paid. Thus, making it an effective rate of AUD 11 per hour.

Part-time jobs in Australia

Monthly expenditure for a student in Australia can be broken down into the following segments namely: Groceries (AUD 500), Travel (AUD 200), Rent (AUD 1200) and other miscellaneous charges (AUD 100), which comes to a total of AUD 2000 approximately. The deficit is generally big – which needs constant funding from parents.

The said amount is not sufficient even to meet basic needs such as groceries, let alone being able to pay rent and other allied expenses. Furthermore, in certain circumstances, students are coerced to work beyond the legally permitted hours, which might result in facing the risk of visa cancellation and deportation at the hands of law enforcement officers. 

Moreover, majority of the students in their respective home countries, are not accustomed to taking up casual jobs while undertaking their education. While struggling with an inherently competitive educational system which places incredible emphasis on academic achievements, supporting oneself through casual jobs is a far cry in most instances. Thus, a sudden change in the system of instruction coupled with separation from families puts enormous pressure on many young minds and often proves to be detrimental.

It is worth noting Australia sees around a million new student enrollments every year. It is a hot destination for both undergrad and post-graduation education and comes a close third after US and UK in terms of overall attractiveness – counting reputation of Universities, cost of the program and post education work opportunities. Chinese and Indians form major chunk of these enrollments. With visa restrictions tightening in US – Indians have increasingly looked at Australia to get their higher education credentials.

So, what is the solution? In my opinion, students must be prepared in the “real” sense before planning to move abroad. It is mandatory to do extensive research on local employers and support the same with adequate networking. This can minimize the chances of being exploited in Australia as a student. Finally, it is quintessential to stay strong and not lose hope even in despair situations.

Soundarya Lahari

Soundarya Lahari is a graduate of NLIU, Bhopal – majoring in Corporate & Intellectual Property Law. She worked with Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas at Bengaluru briefly before she headed out to Australia to pursue her master’s in International Business at University of New South Wales, Sydney. She has presented papers at several conferences including the International Conference on Trade, Business, Economics and Law at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom and the Cross-Border Commercial Law conference at Singapore. She loves to read on wide range of topics ranging from History to Philosophy.

2 Comments

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    A V Ravi Chandra Reply

    The article is well balanced and sticks to what it aims to convey, in the process doesn’t digress or deviate which helps the reader remain interested through out the article. These are the type of articles prospective students should read and save it for future reference. Now Why do many Indian students struggle as a student while studying overseas? There are many reasons for it. Before they embark on the journey most students are and don’t want to be aware of the difficulties that they may encounter while studying abroad. The fancy of a foreign university degree and a possible settlement post study convolutes the though process. The fact that the information that comes fast and thick from friends and other miscellaneous sources sows a seed of confusion in them. Strangely many of them digest the disinformation and throw out the required and genuine information especially in the age of the Internet. For many students it is not about the intellectual outcome in learning the course but it is all about getting a foothold to somehow settling there which means the thought of post education settlement outweighs their actual purpose of going there. Most of the time they assume that everything outside of India is filled with “Bed of roses ” but they fail to understand the different dynamics that are involved to succeed there. It is not just one’s intelligence and hard work that is sufficient, it also needs one’s patience, fortitude and the strength of will to overcome difficult times to succeed. Our cultural setup in our families has also not helped in the issue of taking part time jobs. We loathe and ridicule students who work hard in part time jobs which may not be in tune with their education. In united states children start learning life skills from an early age. When they are in higher school and college they take up part time jobs in holidays which not only enhance their skills but also gives them a balanced understanding of jobs. Also the freedom to spend the money they earn is also useful unlike in India where the entire holidays are spent with family and friends. So the moment when our students go abroad to study on loans they have to find some source of income to manage themselves. Not everyone is capable enough of finding a part time job in their field, very few manage to get it, hence for the rest, they have to take up a job in a restaurant, gas station or elsewhere which itself is not bad considering the fact that it at least enables one to earn a little to manage their basic needs. This specifically applies to the undergraduate students. The masters students who have worked here for a while like a year or two develop the required tools to get part time jobs in fields a little bit closer to their choices. As the writer above has pointed out succinctly, lack of awareness, information and preparedness before going abroad lands most of the students in trouble in getting decent part time jobs. Unfortunately when one doesn’t have an idea why and where they are stepping into, the world becomes a strange and uncharitable place to work and live, and it is in these situations employers exploit, which should not happen but does always happen everywhere, the only thing is it changes in the quantum between one country and the other. I think we should allow our children to learn such valuable life skills as self-responsibility, independence and the relationship between time and money to make them strong in times of adversities. Last but not the least the author makes a very important and valid point about doing an extensive research on local employers and support and the same with adequate networking couple with the advise to stay strong and hopeful in trying times and 2020 has been and will be a very trying and distressing time for students.

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