International Student Exploitation – Australia

INTERNATIONAL STUDENT MARCHFor the last several years, Indian students have viewed Australia as a favourable destination for education. The universities, high standard of living and PR qualifications were very attractive for people who are looking for a better education or a better life. But despite the stories told about how easy it will be for foreign students to get work and get by, the overall picture is not as bright.

In reality, international students are treated as cash cows. It is well known that education is one of Australia’s largest exports and is a billion dollar industry. Therefore the government would do the best it can to promote Australia to foreign students.

Many migration agents and even education agents from the student’s home countries take advantage of the students. Education agents convince the students that it will be easy for them to get a home, to find a well paying part time job and even telling them that it will be easy to get permanent residence. All this is told to students so that they will apply to the university through that agent. Of course the real reason the agents convince them of this is because the university is paying them for every student they send.

Housing & Cost of Living Pressures

But students are not just drained of their money from private universities and the government but also by landlords, employers and migration agents. Housing is one of the essentials for international students and what is more important is affordable safe housing. But student accommodation is known to be expensive and many students are forced to look for cheaper accommodation in unsafe areas. Many students have had experiences where the landlords overcharge them and cramp as many as twelve students into one house with no proper facilities such as heating or a fire alarm system. Some houses do not have legal contracts which puts students at risk of losing their bond deposit if there is no proper documentation of them living in that house. To make matters worse, living in these unsafe conditions make students the easy targets of crime.

Since getting a job that pays well is very hard, students will also have to cope with the cost of living pressures. Melbourne is now a more expensive city than London. Students usually face a lot of financial pressure. There have been various reports of female international students working at brothels to make a living. Even public transportation in Melbourne is expensive, as international students do not get a concession unlike the local students.

These unsafe conditions were one of the main factors for the attacks against Indian students in 2009. There was a racist element but the exploitation of students puts them at a higher risk of being attacked as they are forced to work late shifts and live in unsafe areas.

Exploitation at Work

Students are at risk while working during their study. International students are only allowed to work 20 hours per week. This restriction in their working hours makes it easier for employers to exploit them. Most international students are unaware of the fact that if they have a right to work in Australia, they have the same rights as workers in Australia, which would include the basic minimum wage and the right to join a union.

But since most students are not informed of this, they are paid below minimum wage, are overworked and are made to work in unsafe jobs. Due to the low pay, the student are forced to work more than 20 hours a week, off the book and are paid cash in hand. Many students would be less likely to question their employers, as they fear they might be fired or that they could be reported to authorities.

A primary example of this can be seen with the exploitation of 7-eleven (convenient store) workers in Melbourne. The workers were being paid $6 to $10 an hour even for shifts that required more than double that pay. After the workers decided to unionise they had protests against the store and the courts made the owners of the store compensate the employees with $150,000 in back pay.

Need for Fighting Back!

The exploitation of international students shows that they are seen as no more than cash cows and a cheap source of labour. The only way international students can fight back is by joining their respective unions. But that alone will not solve the problems as this exploitation is rooted into the capitalist system, which sees education and housing as commodities instead of being seen as basic rights. Only within a socialist system that puts the needs of the people before profit, will it be possible to address these issues.

Aishwarya Ramji

(The writer is a Student Activist & member of Socialist Party (Australia), sister organization of New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India)