Franchise owners of 7-Eleven chain stores charged workers up to $70,000 to help them secure a working visa, a Senate inquiry has heard.
A Senate Committee is holding a special public hearing in Melbourne today to examine the exploitation of workers at the chain store, as part of an inquiry into Australia’s temporary work visa program.
The convenience stores have come under scrutiny following an ABC Four Corners investigation, which revealed the company was systematically paying its workers about half the minimum wage.
Many of the staff were foreigners who were being forced to work in contravention of their visa conditions.
Mohammed Rashid Ullat Thodi lost his job as a result of speaking out about the pay scam.
He told the inquiry some store owners had charged workers $30,000 to $70,000 to sponsor them on a visa.
“While it could be either an arrangement of taking the money off their pay, like if you work this many hours you could get this many pay,” he said.
He said the money went straight to the franchise owners.
The inquiry will hear evidence from workers as well as unions, calling for an overhaul of visa arrangements.
The company’s senior management may also face a grilling.
Calls for workers to be given visa amnesty
Tens-of-thousands of workers have potentially been affected.
Most are on visas restricting their working time to 20 hours per week. Many have been forced to work 40 hours, but paid for only 20.
Complaints were met with threats that they would be reported for breaching their visas.
It has led to calls from lawyers that anyone who has breached their visa conditions while working for 7-Eleven be given an amnesty.
The Greens member for the seat of Melbourne, Adam Bandt, said it was crucial the workers were able to give evidence free of any threat of deportation.
7-Eleven has set up an independent panel to investigate the underpayments.
In a statement, the founder and chairman of 7-Eleven Australia, Russell Withers, said he accepted responsibility and assured the company was doing what it could to fix the situation.