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Issue #1473      22 September 2010

“Fair Work” Ombudsman turns blind eye to underpayment of international students

UNITE, the fighting union for fast food and retail workers in Victoria, was appalled to read the 7-Eleven Stores Audit Campaign: Final Report released last week by the Fair Work Ombudsman.* The audit was conducted after UNITE waged a long campaign against the super-exploitation of international students in 7-Eleven stores.

The main complaint UNITE has made is that there is a far-reaching scam being orchestrated by 7-Eleven franchisees whereby they pay employees for only half the hours they work.

On top of this there are other problems in the stores including the non-payment of penalty rates and long periods of unpaid trial work. These underpayments amount to the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages per annum.

UNITE explained clearly to the Fair Work Ombudsman that a simple audit of the books would not show up the full extent of the underpayments taking place. UNITE recommended that a comparison be done between the time and wages records and the cash register reconciliation forms. In most stores the employees log in and out of the cash register and a comparison with time sheets would show that people are not being paid for all the hours they work.

Disappointingly this comparison was not done. Instead the Fair Work Ombudsman merely wrote a letter to some franchisees and then asked them to conduct a “self audit”! The Fair Work Ombudsman then only looked at the books of 20 percent of those who participated. Even this limited investigation showed that 30 percent of the stores were not adhering to workplace laws - an indication itself that there are big problems at 7-Eleven.

UNITE Secretary Anthony Main said, “It is our view that the Fair Work Ombudsman has systematically failed to take these matters seriously. We have made complaint after complaint about the double hours scam but they continue to refuse to look into it.

“They need to explain very clearly why they refuse to compare the time sheets and the cash register log in details. We have told them on countless occasions where the bodies are buried but they refuse to go and dig them up.

“This cannot be put down to incompetence alone. The truth is that if the full extent of this rip-off was known it could bring down this retail giant. It would also do damage to Australia’s reputation amongst international student markets. I would say this is a case of the Fair Work Ombudsman working to protect big business interests … while ignoring the plight of underpaid workers.

“Our campaign against these dodgy practices in 7-Eleven will continue,” Anthony said.

And some in government and higher education wonder why international students are looking elsewhere.


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