Fighting for exploited 7-Eleven workers

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, 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 4000 workers were affected across a network of 600 stores. Many of these people had also 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 back pay and other entitlements. Many had never been paid penalty rates for working weekends, public holidays and overnight, for instance.

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 only 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.

 

PODCAST: Mohamed Thodi – Mohamed and Goliath

After more than two months of unpaid training, exploited 7-Eleven worker Mohamed Thodi was rostered on for long hours – about 50 to 60 hours a week, on top of his university studies. He was then forced to travel from Geelong to South Yarra to work at another store each day. He asked his boss for a $1 pay rise to help pay for travel and living expenses, which was rejected. He was then told he had become lazy and that his job was jeopardy and was fired soon after.

Listen to the podcast below, or subscribe on iTunes.

Amnesty for exploited workers sought

In addition to Maurice Blackburn 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 has received in excess of $3 million in unpaid wages and entitlements for our clients while continuing to fearlessly pursue 7-Eleven franchisees to help recover money that is owed to the workers – including many international students – who were taken advantage of.

 

TOPIC: Social justice
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Social justice

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Giri Sivaraman

Maurice Blackburn Brisbane
Giri Sivaraman is a Principal at Maurice Blackburn. He is the head of the firm’s Queensland Employment law department based in Brisbane, which is listed by the highly respected Doyle's Guide to the Australian Legal Profession as one of two top tier law firms for employees in Queensland. Giri is recognised as a preeminent lawyer for employees in Queensland by Doyle's Guide and he is a member of the Law Society of Queensland employment law subcommittee. He is also a LSQ accredited specialist in workplace relations and a Law Society of NSW accredited specialist in employment and industrial law. Giri has 15 years’ experience providing a full range of legal services to executive and employment law clients including CEOs of ASX 200 listed companies, the CEO of a prominent NGO, the CEO of a large software developer, executives in the financial and banking sectors, medical professionals, senior public servants, senior marketing executives and incorporated associations. Giri sees clients throughout Queensland and provides advice and legal representation in all areas of employment law including workplace bullying, employment contracts, redundancy, restraint of trade, discrimination, sexual harassment, adverse action, and unfair dismissal. He is also experienced in representing employees including very senior executives who are the subject of workplace investigations and disciplinary processes. Giri has negotiated a number of significant out of court settlements, and notes that the vast majority of his cases are successfully settled without going to court. He is conscious of the discretion required when dealing with people’s livelihood and reputation, noting that legal action is not often something a client will want splashed across the front page of the major newspapers. His significant cases include: headed the pro bono scheme for underpaid 7-Eleven workers run by Maurice Blackburn bringing one of the first successful adverse action cases under the new Fair Work Act representing an aircraft engineer who had his work rights breached representing Aid/Watch in the High Court, successfully challenging the Australian Taxation Office’s decision to deny it charitable status. This case significantly altered Australian tax law and enabled many charities to retain their charitable status successfully resolved breach of contract claim for CEO of multinational software company winning a discrimination case on behalf of a Senior police officer dismissed for discriminatory reasons defending and assisting the CEO of an ASX 200 company in response to serious allegations of harassment, and appeared before the Commonwealth Government Parliamentary Inquiry into corporate avoidance of the Fair Work Act. Giri’s influence as a thought leader in employment law in Australia is also well recognised. He addressed the Commonwealth House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment on the need for new anti-bullying laws, and was delighted to see those laws enacted in 2014. He was also invited to make submissions to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Bullying at NSW WorkCover, and is a regular contributor to public debate on employment issues. He also helped provide the seed which grew to establish Unions 4 Refugees in Queensland. Memberships and awards Preeminent Employment Lawyer in Queensland - Doyle's Guide 2017 Leading Employment Lawyer in Queensland and Australia - Doyle's Guide 2016 Recommended Employment Lawyer - Doyle's Guide 2014 & 2015 Law Society of Queensland employment law subcommittee Queensland Law Society member NSW Law Society member  ...

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