Uni students who pick up casual work are often targets for unscrupulous employers who see them as easy targets to be underpaid.

I personally know of two hospitality employers in the local Newcastle area who are paying university students only $11 and $13 per hour, cash-in-hand. The students were just grateful to have a job and didn’t want to make a fuss – but they also didn’t know what they should be paid and how much they were getting ripped off!

If your employer pays you cash-in-hand you may be being paid less than the award, you may be missing out on Saturday and Sunday penalty rates and you are missing out on your superannuation entitlements. Overall these underpayments can add up to thousands of dollars per year. Your employer may tell you they are saving you money because you’re not paying tax – but don’t believe them – whilst you are working part-time, your tax rate will be very low.

Know your entitlements

Every person who is employed in Australia is entitled to be paid the minimum Award hourly rate applicable to your industry, job and age. Awards set out maximum hours, allowances, breaks and minimum wages. Details of Awards are available on the Government’s Fair Work “Find My Award” function at

Additionally, if you are over 18 and earn over $450 before tax per month, you are also entitled to 9.5% superannuation contributions from your employer over and above your wages. These entitlements are not discretionary – under the law your employer MUST pay you at least the award rate and contribute to your superannuation.

There are awards for people who work in fast food outlets, retail, restaurants and all other industries. The 19-year-old student, who was working for $11 per hour on Friday and Saturday in a small fast food takeaway, was actually entitled to receive $19.44 on Fridays and $23.33 per hour on Saturdays. If they worked 6 hours on Friday and 7.5 hours on Saturday they would receive $225 after all their taxes were paid. Compared to $11 cash in hand, this means they were being underpaid a total of $77 per week. They would also be entitled to superannuation contributions of $27 per week. This adds up to $5450 over the whole year – and for any Uni student that is a LOT of money!

Got a problem – contact the Fair Work Ombudsman

If you have a problem with what your employer is paying you, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman and lodge a complaint. Fair Work will then attempt to resolve the issue with your employer. Fair Work can also issue fines and penalties against employers if they find they are systematically breaching employment laws and underpaying employees. You cannot lose your job for contacting Fair Work – and in fact if you do, you can talk to Fair Work about Unfair Dismissal.

Top 3 Tips

  1. Know what award you are employed under and ask for confirmation of your award hourly rate from any new employer in writing before you start work.
  2. Every week you should receive a payslip from your employer showing your hours and how much you have been paid. Check it is right.
  3. Track the hours you work and check it to your payslip – check out the Fair Work “Record my Hours” app on iTunes and Google Play.

Alison Walter is a career coach who has run Financial Literacy workshops and drop-in sessions at NUSA.

Story image: ‘Cafe’ by Miki Yoshihito on Flickr.