Many students need to work while they study to pay their living costs or to get work experience. In Australia, all workers have rights, even if they are citizens of another country, e.g., international students. Trade unions support workers to protect workers’ rights and together with the Fair Work Ombudsman, makes sure workers are treated fairly.

Each job has an agreement or an award that outlines the pay and conditions you should expect. Make sure you read it carefully before signing up as an employee. Some students accept being paid less that their award or being treated unfairly as they are afraid to lose their job. No matter what conditions you agree to or how you get paid, your boss cannot arrange for you to be deported, just because you did not do something they wanted you to do at work, or just because you have been working outside of the law while studying.

If you are a casual worker (not permanent) check your agreement to know how much notice you are entitled to before getting a shift or having one cancelled. Even if you are casual and do not get paid sick leave, if you are too unwell to attend work, you are entitled to have that time off. Most employers will require you to give them a doctor’s certificate. Some employees are paid a penalty loading (extra money) if they work on weekends, after normal hours, or public holidays. Check your agreement to see if this applies to you. Keep a record of all the hours you work and check them against your payslip to ensure you have received the correct pay.

Employers pay tax on any money you earn, which is then assessed at the end of the financial year (30th June). You will need to complete a tax return to have that assessed so you can receive a refund of excess taxes paid, or repay any that you owe. If you earn more than $450 (before tax) in a month you are also entitled to at least 10% superannuation. It seems like a very long time away but planning for your retirement now is a good idea. Some international students can get a refund of superannuation when they have permanently left Australia.

Some employers avoid their responsibilities by “hiring” people as “contractors”; e.g., delivery riders, ride share operators, tutors; for roles in the “gig economy”. There are many difficulties for people working within these roles, including no sick leave, no insurance or workers compensation, and complex tax requirements. Consider these conditions before engaging one of these roles.

The best protection you have as a worker is through your trade union. They protect you as an individual and as part of a group of workers. They have in the past fought for conditions such as fair pay, lunch breaks, penalty rates, and protected workers from unfair dismissal. The small joining fee is tax deductable and gives you protection while you are working. Different jobs have different trade unions, so start by joining the Australian Council of Trade Unions, then they will let you know which specific Union you will move to for the following month.