University of Wollongong student Zac Jory knows all too well how young people can be taken advantage of in the workforce.
Mr Jory, 26, was underpaid about $20,000, worked long hours and didn't get penalty rates or overtime while he was employed for more than two years at an Illawarra-based recreation company.
The international studies student unionised with fellow workers and he ended up settling with the company for a fraction of the cost of his lost wages.
That's why Mr Jory wanted to share his experience with Wollongong MP Paul Scully and shadow minister for finance, small business and the gig economy Daniel Mookhey when they visited UOW on Thursday to discuss wage theft in the city.
Mr Jory said he and his housemate had spoken to dozens of students who had been treated "horrendously" by employers who were underpaying them.
"These people struggle to pay rent, get groceries, they have to work extra long hours which affects their studies," he said.
"They struggle to find work and have to settle for sub-par wages."
Mr Jory felt there were several businesses in the Illawarra that "preyed" on students because they were vulnerable and needed to work to pay for their studies and living expenses. This often forces many young employees to stay in underpaying jobs.
The student said many young people felt vulnerable and helpless when they approached their employer to ask for the correct wage.
He's heard stories of some employers threatening to fire the employee or intimidate them.
It's stories like Mr Jory's and other students which will help Mr Mookhey understand how politicians can try to stamp out wage theft.
"We want the Wollongong economy to be profitable enough to pay all business owners high returns and we want it to be productive enough to pay workers high wages," he said.
Mr Mookhey said wage theft robbed workers who weren't getting paid what they are legally entitled to and robbed every other business that complies with the law.
That's why NSW Labor wants to modernise the law and see deliberate wage theft criminalised.
Mr Scully said smaller businesses tended to engage in wage theft because sometimes the employer did not know the regulations while others knowingly underpaid staff.
"We have to make sure businesses and workers know what they are entitled to and what they should be paying or getting paid," he said. "If businesses are seeking a competitive advantage by ripping off their workers than that is unfair."
Mr Jory and Mr Scully had the same advice for young people who think they are being underpaid - unionise.