When the systemic underpayment and exploitation of 7-Eleven workers was revealed by ABC’s Four Corners and Fairfax Media in 2015, the nation was aghast.
Somehow, gross underpayment of wages had been consistently occurring at franchises across the nation.
There’d been widespread doctoring of payroll records, and time sheets and rosters had been falsified, as had store financial records.
There was also proof of understated wage bills, store reviews and explosive documents relating to payroll compliance from the head office of the country’s biggest convenience store chain.
Thousands of Workers Potentially Exploited
The consequences of such exploitation were far-reaching. Potentially, 4,000 workers were affected across a network of 600 stores. Many of these people had been threatened with deportation if they did not comply with their employers’ demands, or if they complained to authorities. They were also told that there were plenty of other people willing to take their place and work under the conditions in place.
Recognising the magnitude and unlawfulness of the situation, Maurice Blackburn stepped in and offered to represent workers who had been exploited free of charge to help them recover backpay and other entitlements. Many had never been paid penalty rates for working weekends, public holidays and overnight.
Claimants’ stories of exploitation were shocking.
A hotline was set up that resulted in hundreds of inquiries from current and former 7-Eleven staff willing to relay their shocking experiences.
Mohamed Thodi was among them. He had come to Australia on a student visa to study architecture after being a top student in India. But long hours working at 7-Eleven drove him to the brink.
He was living and studying in Geelong and his boss at 7-Eleven took a second store in South Yarra and asked him to work there. He was getting paid $10 an hour, but after travel expenses and tax, his wages were $5 an hour.
Mohamed’s complaints and attempts to resign were met with threats from his bosses that he would be deported. By law, student visas allow students to work only 20 hours a week.
Fortunately, he kept a record of every shift he worked, which was used by Fair Work to uphold his claim against the franchisees for unpaid wages. It also led to the couple who ran the store being fined $150,000 in the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Unfortunately for him, the couple placed their business into administration before any payment was made to him.
Although I won the case, I still remember, I walked into shops, many 7eleven shops, convenience stores, met my fellow workers asking them, 'Hey are you being ripped off, come on I'll help you get your pay'. And they would look at me, and I could see the sadness in their eyes, they looked at me and say, 'No, I would rather get paid under, than not get paid at all.
-Mohamed Rashid Ullat Thodi
Amnesty For Exploited Workers Sought
Maurice Blackburn and the SDA lobbied the Federal Government to grant amnesty to staff who spoke up about the exploitation they had experienced, arguing that without it, workers were very scared to come forward.
Protection from deportation was subsequently granted, provided those who came forward were willing to help with investigations into the exploitation.
The firm assisted many staff who made claims for backpay with the independent panel led by former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) boss Allan Fels that was set up by 7-Eleven in September 2015. That legal assistance has continued for those seeking to be paid what they are owed since the panel was shut down in May 2016.
Maurice Blackburn and the SDA have received in excess of $3 million in unpaid wages and entitlements for workers. We are also continuing to fearlessly pursue 7-Eleven franchisees to help recover money that is still owed to workers — including many international students — who were taken advantage of.
Listen to the Mohamed and Goliath podcast for more information