Backpackers Working In Australia - A Guide to Knowing Your Employment Rights.
See that photo at the top in the header there? Well that was me working on a farm, where despite the heat, the dust and the remote-living, we had a truly amazing time. Actual life-changing stuff.
What came after wwoofing, wasn't so awesome.
I have spoke on the blog before the dream job which turned into a nightmare. I briefly alluded to why that job didn't work out. I still do not desire to dredge it up in a detailed manner, and if I did, I would find myself down all over again, when I have already been through a raft of emotion already. Safe to say its the most negative work experience I have had not just in Australia, but in the entirety of my working life, including when I worked at a bank in a sales and customer service job that I hated.
That sales job literally drove me to depression, but somehow, this was worse...
I don't think it is beneficial to my audience or to myself to outline every way in which my recent employer may or may not have been paying very blurred attention to the rights of their employees. Or to go over why we stayed there for two months and tolerated our grievances (clue: we needed the money).
What will be beneficial is to try and help people in my position, who have either found themselves in a difficult job whilst backpacking, or who want to know before-hand what they can do to protect themselves.
First off, it's not cynical to expect or predict that employers will try and exploit you because you are a backpacker. A backpacker traditionally works because they really do need the money if they are to continue their travelling dreams, so some employers will 100% play on this fact, try to short-change you, over-work you etc.
You are not an Australian citizen (who do by the way, also get regularly messed around), you are generally less aware of your rights and thus ignorance is their bliss.
This is not cool, SO not cool (Walking Dead Finale reference, makes this phrase way more sinister).
Always remember your worth, and what you have to give. You are a skilled and worthy human being, not an ignorant idiot primed for manipulation. You do not need to suffer the shit of unscrupulous assholes. I am a big believer in Karma, and if these people are okay with mistreating ANYONE under their employment, then they will eventually be punished by the law. But we don't have to let them get away with it by suffering through it, or not reporting them to Fairwork.
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HERE WE GO, 6 STEPS TO KNOWING YOUR RIGHTS AND PROTECTING YOURSELF:
From a practical stance, when you are looking for jobs and replying to adverts (on sites like Gumtree, less so the likes of Indeed or Seek), it's worth noting how much information is being willingly given in that ad. A company or person who delivers limited info, info that allows you to know exactly what you are going into, is to be treated with caution. If they continue this level of guardedness when you reply to an ad, consider why they are not being upfront by providing the information that anybody would need to make an employment decision. Just listen to your gut. It's the old adage, if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. The best way to be, is to apply for a job with equal parts info on yourself with questions for the employer.
If you are offered a job, and you accept, insist upon a few things. Ask for a dated document which states your name, your employers name, ABN (Australian business number) your hourly award wage (refer to this to check what the awards are for your industry as standard: list of awards) a full explanation of your role and responsibilities, and your expected employment hours. This is definitely not a standard thing that every employer will provide. Many will not willingly tell you your pay-rate, you are left to discover that on your payslip.
But let's not beat around the bush, you are only working because you need money, there is no need to behave as if it's something you shouldn't ask about. You absolutely should, and need to, to make sure your employer is meeting the industry standard. If they want to ensure the rights of their own employees they will oblige in writing up an email or document listing all these things. If you wait until you are a few weeks into a job, enjoying the income, and then all of a sudden you realize not only is your pay-grade wrong, but you find yourself being asked to do things way beyond your original job description, it's kinda too late. Not too late to leave, but it's too late to not be exploited. You already have been.
When you accept a job, and are informed of your role and your pay-rate, you can check this out and make sure it is correct. If in doubt just email or phone Fairwork to discuss. I recommend downloading the award documentation online, and reading through it. It goes into a lot of detail on exactly what your employer/employee relationship should be. It covers things you might not even consider, and thus you could be mistreated in ways you never would have realized had you not read the documentation. For example, if you work somewhere which includes living on-site in employer provided accommodation, there are rules around what they can reasonably charge you for board and food. Don't get ripped off!
It's not unreasonable in time to maybe expect your job to alter or your responsibilities to change but this should be the result of a conversation, and a mutual agreement, not something that is put onto you at short notice. If you feel uncomfortable or out of your depth in a part of your new responsibilities, you must be honest. You DO NOT have to do something that compromises your safety, that of others, or your personal well-being. It is the sole responsibility of your employer to hire people with the correct skills for a particular job role, it is not down to you to meet the short-fall, without any training or consideration for what you want to do in the job. Of course if a change of role is agreed upon, trained and brings a new level of skills to you for future employment, embrace it, but do not feel like you must do it if it becomes apparent that you cant.
Ensure you receive your payslip every pay-round. Aussie businesses frequently email these through, ensure you give the correct email address and always follow-up if it is not received. Read here to find out what your payslip should include every time. When you leave a job be sure to ask when your payment summary will be sent, either to you or the tax office, at the end of the tax year, or on leaving. This will be a required document for when you do a tax return. A tax return will be a requirement if you undertake regular paid employment in Australia. Head here for info.
Always provide your employer with the name of your superannuation account and
tax file number. PRO TIP: Always provide your TFN to your super account during the application process or contributions are taxed at 45%! You can ask your employer or payroll how often they pay your superannuation into your account as some employers pay it every quarter, some every pay round.
Some super accounts will actually be closed if they do not receive funds within a quarter and so it's good to bear this is mind. When an employer has supposedly paid your super, you can usually log into the account online to verify this. Don't assume it's paid and wait until you leave Australia to then claim it back, to find its not been paid. I know of companies who have not paid peoples super and they have had to try and get it out of them.
To learn about what super is, and how to open an account, head here. I will have a post about this and all other important things to do with Australian banking, tax etc soon, so sub to the newsletter below to know when it's out!
There is no way to 100% ensure that an employer won't, at some point in your employment, treat you questionably.
But there are rules in place to protect everyone, including backpackers, who are not 2nd class citizens exempt from respectful and lawful treatment. I hope this advice prevents someone out there going through what we did, and if so, our experience wasn't in vain.
Thanks for reading!
Hannah and Taran here. We hail from Southern England, where we met online and are now realizing our mutual passion for travel here at Nomad'erHowFar. We discuss Nomadic Living, Simplifying your Life and Long-term Travel, to empower, motivate and inspire our readers. Get to know us here!