Latika Bourke, 28 September 2015

Bill Shorten has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urging him to grant an amnesty to thousands of exploited 7-Eleven workers.

The Opposition Leader wrote to Mr Turnbull on Friday, pleading for a reprieve for up to 4000 international students, some of whom were paid as little as $5 per hour.

“Although 7-Eleven has established a company funded investigation headed by Professor Allan Fels AO and a Senate inquiry is examining this matter, I believe the gravity of the breaches involved in this case warrants the public release of any Fair Work Ombudsman inquiry,” Mr Shorten said.

“I also ask that the government consider providing a visa amnesty to affected workers to help them pursue their workplace rights, given the unique circumstances and unprecedented scale of this particular case. I understand that many underpaid employees may be reluctant to come forward with their underpayment claims unless an amnesty is granted in respect of their student visas,” he wrote.

Mr Shorten’s request for an amnesty is the same as that made by class action law firm Maurice Blackburn. Principal Josh Bornstein has also written to Mr Turnbull saying the investigation, which relies on current and former staff who have been exploited giving evidence, will not work properly unless a reprieve is granted. The Department of Immigration has previously said it is considering an amnesty. A spokesman for the Minister Peter Dutton could not be reached.

Maurice Blackburn is providing free legal advice to current and former workers who want to recover wages and entitlements they claim were never paid.

A joint Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation has found the 7-Eleven chain systemically underpaid its workers across 620 stores. The investigation was told thousands of international student employees were encouraged to breach their visa conditions and work beyond their 20-hour per week allowance in return for reduced wages.

Student employees say they were threatened with deportation if they complained. Mr Shorten and his deputy Tanya Plibersek both took leave on Sunday leaving Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong to perform as the acting Opposition Leader in their absences.

Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.