Visa amnesty needed for 7-Eleven workers – new pro bono legal support service launched for exploited workers

21 September 2015
Attempts to rectify widespread underpayment of 7-Eleven workers will fail unless the Federal Government allows a visa amnesty for affected staff, says employment law experts Maurice Blackburn.

The firm today announced free legal advice to any 7-Eleven workers trying to recover wages and other entitlements via the panel set up by 7-Eleven and chaired by former ACCC chairman Professor Allan Fels.

The ABC’s Four Corners program and Fairfax Media investigations have revealed widespread exploitation of 7-Eleven workers. There could be up to 4000 workers affected across a network of 600 stores.

Maurice Blackburn principal Giri Sivaraman said while the independent panel aimed to do the right thing, there was a risk that workers would miss out again because many are on student or other visas and feared being deported.

“They don’t trust the company and are concerned they will be reported for working more than 20 hours a week, when in fact they were often coerced into doing this,” Mr Sivaraman said.

“Without a visa amnesty, the panel that has been set up to fix the problem will be paralysed. From the 7-Eleven workers I have spoken to, it’s clear workers live in fear. They have been very loyal and now some are being intimidated about wanting to recover underpayment of wages.

“They have already been dudded once by a company that must have known it was breaking the law. We want to make sure they are not ripped off again.”

Mr Sivaraman said many employees have received letters from the independent panel inviting them to supply information, but will need assistance to calculate the extent of the underpayment – and help to supply the right information.

“It’s not just wages, but penalty rates for working at night and on weekends and whether the workers were classified properly under the award,” he said.

“Because 7-Eleven had such poor record keeping, workers will need to provide copies of rosters, timesheets and bank statements to prove what hours they worked and what they were actually paid.

“The panel’s powers do not extend to being able to examine documents from 7-Eleven’s head office, and we believe this kind of documentation could be the missing vital parts of the puzzle,” Mr Sivaraman said. 

Pranay Alawala, a former 7–Eleven worker who is being represented by Maurice Blackburn said: “I believe I am owed more than $30,000. I am concerned that it will take a long time to get this money. I have spoken to the panel. I have asked many questions and the panel is not providing any answers to my questions about how things will work. I’m not trusting the panel at the moment.”

Maurice Blackburn has expertise in successfully prosecuting 7-Eleven for underpayments previously.

“We will work cooperatively with the panel but will be fearless in everything we do to make sure we recover money that is owed to people,” Mr Sivaraman said.

Any 7-Eleven worker who wants support to lodge a claim for underpayment of wages should call the Maurice Blackburn hotline on 1800 243 766.

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