The Australian Government has agreed not to cancel the visas of 7-Eleven staff who breached their work conditions while being subjected by the convenience stores franchisors to shocking exploitation and underpayment.
In a key development that is likely to result in many more affected 7-Eleven employees coming forward, the government has provided assurances that if workers assist investigations into the systematic wage exploitation, and their claims for underpayment are supported by the Franchisee Review and Staff Claims Panel set up to recover the workers’ lost earnings and other entitlements, their visas will not be cancelled.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) have been lobbying the government for a visa amnesty for affected workers since the widespread exploitation was exposed by ABC’s Four Corners and Fairfax Media in August.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has subsequently written to Maurice Blackburn and the SDA and agreed that, in the interests of assisting workers to come forward and make claims to the panel, it will not cancel visas for breach of work conditions where:
- the Panel advises the Department that they have determined the worker has a claim for underpayment and has cooperated with their investigations;
- there is no other basis for visa cancellation; and
- the visa holder provides a commitment to comply with visa conditions in the future.
Maurice Blackburn is providing free legal advice to 7-Eleven workers trying to recover wages and other entitlements - including penalty rates for working at night and on weekends - via the panel.
Employment law principal Giri Sivaraman said knowing that their visa would not be cancelled was likely to give many more affected staff across 7-Eleven’s network of 600 stores the confidence to seek redress.
“Although they do not go as far as providing a complete amnesty for the affected workers, these assurances from the government are likely to give many more workers the confidence to speak up ad seek to be back-paid without fearing they will be deported,” Mr Sivaraman said.
“Many of these workers are on student or other visas and have held genuine fears that their visas would be cancelled if they came forward to the panel. Many have been forced to work a lot more hours than their visas allowed and were threatened that if they did not do so, and on less pay than they were entitled, they would be reported to immigration authorities for breaching their work conditions and be deported.”
Maurice Blackburn has so far represented more than 40 affected workers who have claimed more than $1.2 million worth of underpayments to the panel. Included among them are workers who have been paid as little as .59 cents an hour.
The SDA has been working closely with Maurice Blackburn to encourage affected workers to come forward. The union’s national secretary Gerard Dwyer described the government’s assurances as: “certainly a step forward.”
“But we know that the exploitation of workers inside 7-Eleven continues. Only last week an SDA organiser uncovered staff, after they had been paid, being forced to withdraw half of their wages from an ATM and return it to the storeowner. This is the sort of appalling treatment of workers that has been, and continues to go on. No one should be subjected to this sort of treatment and we are taking steps on behalf of our members to make sure that it stops.”
He urged affected 7-Eleven workers who had not yet registered on the campaign hotline to go to www.24sevenhelpline.com.au so processing for their claims for unpaid wages could begin.