Key employers in Australia have suggested that changing the work rights of students in the country will help relieve staffing shortages affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Changes announced by the Australian government on January 19 – allowing study visa holders to temporarily work more than 20 hours – are believed to enhance both employers and student employees, according to employers such as 7-Eleven, Woolworths, and Bunnings.
7-Eleven Australia CEO and managing director Angus McKay said, “We warmly welcome the government’s announcement relaxing the hour’s student visa holders can work.”
“The pandemic has created enormous staffing challenges for our franchisees, particularly in recent months, so they are also very pleased with the announcement.”
The convenience store chain has long supported the changes, according to McKay, who added that the company has made numerous submissions to various Parliamentary Committees as well as direct representations to ministers in recent years.
According to 7-Eleven, students should be allowed to work as many hours as they can while still meeting their course requirements.
“In our opinion, limiting hours of work to 40 per fortnight places undue financial strain on international students and exposes them to workplace exploitation.”
Caryn Katsikogianis, the Woolworths Group’s chief people officer, welcomed the government’s official statement on international student working hours. The Woolworths Group employs 5,000 people with student visas across its Woolworths stores, BIG W, and supply chain operations.
“Thousands of international students work in our store and supply chain teams across Australia,” she said.
“We know many of these team members want to work more hours, and this change will make a significant difference as we work together across the supply chain to provide food and essentials in the face of unprecedented disruption,”.
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 international border closure, the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association has been advocating for a change in the working hours cap for more than a year, according to its CEO Mark McKenzie.
“International students are widely employed in the Australian fuel industry, with some international students accounting for between 35 and 40 % of all employees and around 70 % of all shifts worked between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.,” he said.
“Given the importance of this cohort to our national workforce, the visa changes will benefit Australian fuel wholesale and retail businesses significantly in the face of current worker shortages.”
Because the borders had been closed for over 18 months, the changes will allow international students already in the country to “be better utilised.” According to McKenzie, there aren’t enough Australian residents who want to work at a service station, so changes won’t result in “residents losing jobs to international students.”
“It will go a long way toward addressing our industry’s current short-term labour shortages,” he said.
“International students have always been an important and valuable part of our national industry workforce, and they continue to be so.”
In addition to the benefits to industry, students will benefit because “working 20 hours per week in Australia’s larger cities often leaves very little money after paying rent and food costs.”
“However, eradicating wage exploitation of international students will be a major challenge.” All workers in all industries, whether Australian residents or international students are required by law to be paid the Award Minimum Wage for normal hours, as well as all applicable shift penalties and overtime. McKenzie concluded, “This area continues to be a major focus of our association.”
Bunning’s store leaders will work with any team members on a visa to determine how the changes may affect them and discuss their roster options, according to Rana Obeid, head of HR Operations at the home improvement retailer.
“We hope this will come as a relief to our small group of international student team members,” Obeid said.
Beyond the country’s employers, industry stakeholders have predicted that the move will re-establish Australia as a top study destination.
With the work extension, as well as the temporary graduate visa extension from two to three years – announced in late 2021 – Australia is “certainly set to rebound as one of the world’s top study destinations,” according to Elaine Starkey, CEO of Global Study Partners.
“Support like this will encourage students to study and work in Australia.” Skills shortages are worsening, and the Australian government needs to take action to address them. Although it is regrettable that this action was not taken sooner, it is better late than never. “Australia is perfectly positioned to make a strong comeback following Covid,” she told The PIE.
Mark Falvo, Torrens University Australia’s senior vice president for international affairs, said the initiatives “show our current and prospective international students how valuable their contribution is to the Australian economy and society as a whole, and once again projects Australia as the open and welcoming country we know it to be.”
“I know that our Torrens University students who are currently waiting offshore are very excited to be able to realise their dreams of living, working, and most importantly, studying in Australia, a dream that has now become a reality,” he said.
News Source: The Pie News
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