It’s not illegal to work cash-in-hand so long as you comply with taxation obligations

1 July 2020 I International students are not seeking help from government authorities even when they realise they are being underpaid by their employers because they wrongly believe that they would be in legal trouble for working cash-in-hand.

A report, jointly produced by UNSW and UTS academics, however assures international students that they do not break any law by accepting their wages in cash.

“It is not illegal to accept wages in cash provided a worker complies with taxation obligations. Nor is it illegal for an employer to pay wages in cash, provided the employer complies with payslip and taxation obligations,” the 52-page survey report reads.

The study has further revealed why we often hears stories about international students from Nepal being exploited by their unscrupulous bosses. It is, the report suggests, because Nepalese students seriously lack knowledge of Australian workplace rights.

The report authored by associate professors Bassina Farbenblum (UNSW) and Laurie Berg (UTS) says as many as 46% of Nepalese students who responded to the survey conducted in 2019 did not know that international students are entitled to the same minimum wage rates as Australian workers.

The research has also suggested that international students may be reluctant to report exploitation by employers because they wrongly believe that they have broken the law by agreeing to wages less than the legal rate.

“In fact, responsibility lies with an employer to pay their employee correctly; a worker is not in breach of employment law if they accept underpayment,” authors of the report say.

Indian students have been found to be particularly affected by this misconception with over 77% of students from India who participated in the research wrongly believed that international students were breaking the law if they agreed to be underpaid.

The report, titled International Students and Wage Theft in Australia, was the result of survey responses from 2,472 students who came from 103 different nations. Majority of the respondents arrived in the country after 2017.

International students from India (69%) and Nepal (61%) suffer from a fear of losing their jobs as opposed to only 34% students from China, the authors maintained in the report.

The comprehensive report on wage theft in Australia is part of the Information for Impact project funded by StudyNSW.

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