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Australia: 7-Eleven paid student 47 cents an hour, lawyer alleges

Earlier this month a senate inquiry heard that some two-thirds of 7-Eleven stores in Australia face back pay claims, and also heard allegations that some workers were physically intimidated, SBS reports.

Seven of the stores are being prosecuted by the Fair Work Ombudsman, and owners face heavy fines if found guilty.

More than 110 workers have received an estimated $2.8 million via an independent panel that’s assessing the claims.

As many as 20,000 current and former employees are believed eligible to receive back pay, and the total claims are estimated at $30 million.

The majority of the claims come from visa workers and international students, and many are fearful of speaking up.

In Brisbane, Alawala worked in three 7-Eleven stores, where his pay ranged between $12 to $15 an hour, ABC News Australia reports.

He also did “training” work for a week, but wasn’t paid for it.

When Alawala complained, his employer allegedly told him they would tell Immigration officials that he was working too many hours — a breach of his student visa.

According to Giri Sivaraman, of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, all 60 of the past and present 7-Eleven employees being represented by the law firm were completely unaware of their rights.

“They’re unaware of what they should be paid, they’re unaware of their rights in relation to safety, they’re unaware of their rights to take breaks and of their rights to complain,” he said. “That makes them very vulnerable to exploitation and can lead to workers getting paid 47 cents an hour.”

The law firm, affected workers, and unions are calling on the Federal Government to implement mandatory employment education programs for international students and for people on working visas.

The government knows who the workers are and the type of visas they are on, so it’s not a big step to provide these people with more information, Sivaraman said.

Alawala, who is from Pakistan, says people still working at the stores in Brisbane are calling him, asking him how to do the claims or how to complain, he told the Huffington Post Australia.

“Most of the international students, not only from India but from Pakistan, China, Japan, from all over the world they are working in 7-Elevens so it brings a bad impact on Australia,” he said. “This is a good country, everyone is helping here, but they have to know their work rights.”

The SDA, a union for retail, fast-food, and warehouse workers, said that the issue of under-payment is probably huge.

In a statement, SDA National Secretary Gerard Dwyer said the union knows that the exploitation is on-going, and that the cash back scam — which forces workers to withdraw and pay back part of their pay — continues. He noted that in most cases, workers are too afraid to come forward publicly, the Post reported.

A 7-Eleven spokesman said in a statement the company was “appalled” by the wage exploitation and does not condone the under-payment of employees, ABC News Australia reported.

Workers should be allowed all of their rights, the spokesman said, adding that the company plans to eradicate the practice by appointing a special investigator, improving payroll oversight, and introducing store audits.

Mandatory employment education is a matter for the Federal Government, the spokesman said, but the company has implemented new training for franchisees to remind them that they have obligations to their workers.
The spokesman said mandatory employment education was a matter for the Federal Government, but said it had introduced new training for franchisees to remind them of their obligations to their workers.

Now that he has been compensated for his hard work, Alawala can enjoy that cup of coffee that he couldn’t afford when he served 7-Eleven customers, SBS reports. He’s currently studying for a diploma of cookery.

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