Time to Speak Up


Umes Acharya, ACRATH member and researcher is urging people to treat the exploitation of international students as Modern Slavery and work for change. He painted a harrowing picture of the lives of some international students working in Australia, during his presentation at ACRATH’s 2021 conference. Alexandra Baxter, PhD candidate, Flinders University and ACRATH member was also a key speaker at the conference session, which looked at Exposing Modern Slavery – the Lived Experience.

Much of Umes’ work has been with international students and issues around wage theft and slavery-like conditions in work places employing young people. He cited the documented breaches by 7Eleven where many workers were paid less than $12 an hour and no penalty rates. The 7Eleven case became about forced labour because many franchises required the students to break their visa conditions of only 40 hours work per fortnight. Once that visa condition was broken, the franchise holder could threaten the student with a report to the government and deportation, thus making them compliant. This has the elements of human trafficking and forced labour.

A snapshot

  • In 2019 there were 756,636 International students in Australia across every state – highest numbers in NSW and Victoria.
  • The economic contribution of international students in 2018/19 was $37.6 billion.
  • Highest numbers come from China, India and Nepal.
  • During COVID in 2020 a survey of international students found 65% suffered job losses, 43% skipped meals because of poverty and 24% were homeless.

Umes, Youth And Community Engagement Officer with St. Vincent De Paul Society, said there has been a lot of media about the exploitation of international students, but not a lot of protection from wage theft. Many students won’t speak publicly about the abuse in their workplace because they fear being deported.

“We need to come together to advocate on behalf of and with international students,” Umes said.

His challenge to conference participants was to treat wage theft and exploitation of international students as it is – Modern Day Slavery.

Alexandra’s challenging presentation, When the exploited become the exploiters: The incidence and characteristics of female human trafficking victims who become the ‘offender’, was recorded. The full presentation by Alexandra and Umes will be available soon at acrath.org.au.

Experiences of an international student
“I get a call from my family reminding me of the loans they had taken from relatives and friends to send me here ….I cannot simply ignore this because I know the way from their situation rests on my shoulders … I need to back those debts, pay my university fees, pay my rent, groceries, basic living expenses … but the only work I can get is cleaning jobs that do not pay fairly. I feel helpless and I am afraid this stress will overcome me.”

This article was published in ACRATH’s April 2021 Newsletter. Read the newsletter in full here.


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