(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
October 25, 2009
�It is Total Exploitation�
are currently over 90,000 Indians studying in
state and federal governments switched to
damage control mode. Providing education to overseas students is our
largest export industry just behind iron ore and coal. It is worth
billion per annum to the Australian economy. Reports had made their way
the Indian media, as well. Questions were being asked about how safe it
live and work in
The Guardian had the opportunity
to speak to a young Indian woman caught up in the difficulties being
experienced by international students. Lakshmi (not her real name)
�We are from middle class families, we are not from aristocratic families, so we decided we should go and earn for our studies and our own expenses. We will work and earn for ourselves. When I asked my agent that I have two qualifications � a masters of English and another professional degree � so I want to get some sort of job over there, he said �Yeah, yeah, you will get a very good job over there, there�s good scope for professionals in your field over there. You should go with your husband.� But when I came over here it�s totally desperate. No job.
�The agent told us my husband will get a job very easily over there but he never mentioned what sort of job. His fees are $8,000 per semester, $32,000 in all. On top of that there is expenditure for accommodation as well as all the other expenses. We knew my husband would only be able to work 20 hours per week but I would be allowed to work full time, therefore it should be easy to afford my husband�s fees and meet our other expenses, living expenses, for accommodation, groceries.�
reality for Indian students bears no
relationship to the hype emanating from the agents� offices.
the first big hurdle. Recession or no recession, rents are high in
�We never ask questions � we would lose our jobs�
�One of his friends came to him; he was a subcontractor in a company and asked him if he wanted to do some work cleaning for him. My husband is very ready for that because he has to pay for his rent. He is left with no money. The subcontractor said, �I�m going to give you very good money, $15 per hour and $12 per hour. It�s up to you if you want to do that.� He said, �Yeah I want to do that.� He gave him some job for two hours in the evening in a shopping mall. Sometimes he took my husband with him to go somewhere else for cleaning. He gave some training to my husband.
�I find it is total exploitation for the students because he never gave any money to us on our TFN number (tax file number); just cash in hand. There�s no proper date for any pay. No fixed day for payment. We would have to ask him when we needed money and he would say, �OK, you can use this $100 or $150. I will give you some money on your TFN in a month�s time when I get time.� That�s it. We are in need for the job. We never ask any questions of him because if we do we would definitely lose our job. The threat was there that if we ask any type of question of him we would have to leave that job. There was no union presence on these jobs.�
The subcontractor lost the cleaning contract that was keeping Lakshmi and her husband afloat. �What happened to us was that one day our boss told us that there is no job for you; no need to turn up at work. My contract has been cancelled by the company. We became homeless that day,� she recalls. She decided to go interstate alone to get assistance from a relative and follow rumours of better job prospects.
�When I got into the city at my first accommodation, the unit, suddenly the girl said to me, �I�m your support; just pay me $150 for your bond right now and $70 for your rent.� I was so surprised and she said, �Yeah you have to share one room with me.� In one room we had three girls; there�s no separate room in which we have to live. They are Indian girls, that unit was occupied by all Indian students and in that one unit lived nine people. There are two bedrooms, one dining room and one kitchen.
student has permanent residence or any job.
No, we are all looking for a job. One girl is doing a cookery course
goes out to an Indian restaurant for eight hours a week. She is a
dishwasher. That�s it. The girl with whom I�m living, she has no job.
doing community welfare. The two boys, one boy drives a taxi (he�s
The feeling of vulnerability lingered as she combed the streets for work. She had one slight advantage over many other women; she was not locked into a �contract marriage�.
marriage is arranged thus: if the girl
qualifies with the International English Language Test and she wants to
agent will also get some commission from
the boy and some from the girl as well; some lakhs (hundreds of
rupees and maybe two lakhs from him (approximately $4,700). Most of the
in that other state of
One restaurant owner had a job offer but with unsavoury strings attached. Lakshmi learns from other women that this, too, is not uncommon. She leaves the city to take up a job picking lettuces in a regional centre about half an hour from the capital.
�I went there at night and entered the room I was given. Oh my God! Too many people! Fifteen to 20 people living under the one roof. When I met the boss he said to me, �You can share this room with the ten other girls but you have to pay the rent of $65 right now.� My friends said to me that I only had to pay $20 because it was a share house with another 15 or 20 people. OK, so I gave him $65 to stay there and he said tomorrow it�s work.
�There are so many couples, so many people there that I met on that first night, who had come to find some work. We have to fill boxes with lettuce; 25 bunches in each for $3.50 per box. We had to pay $6 each for transportation to the field in the boss� personal car. He got $6 from me for transportation daily. It�s total exploitation. One of my friends tells me he gets $8 per box or $9 per box for the packing so half of the money goes into his pocket.
�There are so many girls working over there. They are all on contract marriage. Their husbands are studying and they have to pay for their fees to get PR over here so they need the work. They have to work in the fields and it�s not a good or safe atmosphere for the girls. It is a very bad atmosphere living with 15 or 20 people, men and women living together; three bedrooms, one kitchen and a dining room. I managed to pick five boxes a day. In five hours I earned $20; then $6 for transportation. If I earn in a week $70 or $80, $65 goes directly to my boss for rent. And you know the house only cost him $150 or $200 per week. You can work it out that he earns a lot of money from the people, all these students.�
The students are permitted one shower per week so that complaints of excessive water use don�t get back to the owner of the house. There are constant fights during the two hour wait to use the single electric range in the kitchen. Two couples share a leaky metal garage in the yard. One of the women there is seven months pregnant. She works in the fields, too. Lakshmi leaves after three tense days. The boss shrugs off a threat from her to inform the authorities about what was going on. �No police will come here,� he said confidently.
�THE MEN ARE
Back with her husband the money problems have not gone away. He is working bits and pieces of jobs involving late nights and early morning starts. His assignments account for the rest of his waking hours. Friends tell her that many Indians are finding work in aged care but that the course last three months � another three months without pay. The course costs $1,900, payable in four instalments and there are no guarantees.
�One of my friends� husband has done this course but still didn�t get a job. He is now suffering from depression. Most of the men are depressed; they are frustrated. Every time this man asked his institute, �Could you please give me my certificate, I have completed the course in the three months,� they would say, �You didn�t do well in your placement. You have to do another placement for another week.� It�s very desperate for him. How can he pay his rent? He has his family, too, a wife and son. How can he pay for that if he doesn�t get any job after doing the age care course? He does catalogue distribution and it only pays his rent. That�s it.�
Another friend who has completed the course but her placement is excluded from aged care jobs because of her lack of experience. Lakshmi decided to return to India.
International students need help from the Australian labour movement to end the widespread exploitation and discrimination at the heart of the education trade. They can�t do it on their own. �Most of the students come over here on a temporary visa. They�ve spent lots of money to come over so they can�t usually engage in these types of organisations (such as the Federation of Indian Students in Australia). They worry that if they raise their voice they might be penalised or sent back,� Lakshmi noted.
Unions already have big battles on their hands to maintain wage rates and conditions under restrictive industrial legislation and in the grip of an economic downturn. They have to stand up for workers brought to Australia on 457 (skills shortage) visas and ripped off. But the plight of international students is bound up in this same drive to push workers� pay and conditions way down. They cannot be left to suffer in silence. Last year there were almost 550,000 international students in the country.
(Courtesy: The Guardian, Australia)