By Sunny Liu
It is not always easy for an 18-year-old to find a job to support themselves, especially if they are a foreign student who has just been in Australia for five months.
Xue Li was desperate to get onto her feet when she arrived in Melbourne from her hometown Zhengzhou, a highly-industrialised Chinese city, last August.
Coming from a relatively humble family background, Ms Li says she is different from some of her peers.
“So many other international students come from rich families and they wear expensive brands just to show off. But I’m not the same,” she said. “I want to earn my own money and cover my basic living expenses.”
But with her $260 weekly rent for a windowless small room on Swanston St and $40,000 annual tuition fees, it seems almost impossible for Ms Li to be financially independent.
After weeks of handing out her resumes along nearly every single shop on Swanston St, Ms Li found a position at a fast food chain just before Christmas.
But before her excitement of getting a new job had worn off, she found out she was being underpaid and exploited.
“After a three-day trial period when I wasn’t paid, I realised my hourly pay was only $12 per hour,” she said.
“When I went for the interview, the boss was very vague about the pay rate. He only said ‘the better you work, the more pay and hours you get’,” Ms Li said. “I was just so happy I finally found a job so I didn’t want to question him.”
“To be honest, I was quite satisfied with the pay because it was actually higher than some of my classmates, who only got $10 an hour,” she said.
Ms Li says she does not want to complain too much because she just wants to have a job, despite working more than 70 hours a fortnight in the lead up to Christmas and not getting paid penalty rates on weekends and public holidays.
“I do think I deserve something better. But this is as good as I can get at the moment,” she said.
Having been diligently looking for work and working ever since she arrived in Melbourne, Ms Li says she has not yet had the chance to have a proper tour around this popular tourist destination.
“Though I live in the centre of the city, my life is quite confined to the CBD area. I spend most of my time at school, work and home.”
“I would really love to see more places in Melbourne, but at the moment I just want to relieve some financial burden off my family,” she said.
Ms Li is hopeful that she will eventually find a job with higher pay and will have the time and money to travel around Melbourne.