Max Mason, 21 December 2015

The federal government will not cancel the visas of 7-Eleven staff who breached their work conditions in Australia while being exploited and underpaid by the convenience store chain.

A letter obtained by Fairfax Media from the Department of Immigration to lawyers Maurice Blackburn and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, said the government was prepared to provide assurances to the workers, many of whom are from overseas and visa holders, that their visas would not be cancelled if they came forward to assist in investigations of poor treatment and underpayment.

Although they do not go as far as providing a complete amnesty for the affected workers, these assurances from the government are likely to give many more workers the confidence to speak up ad seek to be back-paid without fearing they will be deported.

Giri Sivaraman, lawyer

“Under this approach, the department would not cancel visas for breach of work conditions where: the panel advises the department that they have determined the worker has a claim for underpayment and has co-operated with their investigations; there is no other basis for visa cancellation; and the visa holder providers a commitment to comply with visa conditions in the future,” the letter from Visa and Citizenship Services deputy secretary Michael Manthorpe said.

“Where there are other breaches of visa conditions, the department will take into account the full range of factors that have impacted visa holders. Any compliance action will be considered on a case-by-case basis, in line with existing business practices.”

Free legal advice

Fairfax Media and the ABC’s Four Corners in August broke the story of systemic exploitation and underpayment of the workers by 7-Eleven at stores across Australia.

Since then Maurice Blackburn has been providing free legal advice to 7-Eleven workers, and employment law principal Giri Sivaraman said the government’s assurances would probably mean more affected staff would come forward.

“Although they do not go as far as providing a complete amnesty for the affected workers, these assurances from the government are likely to give many more workers the confidence to speak up and seek to be back-paid without fearing they will be deported,” Mr Sivaraman said.

“Many of these workers are on student or other visas and have held genuine fears that their visas would be cancelled if they came forward to the panel.

“Many have been forced to work a lot more hours than their visas allowed and were threatened that if they did not do so, and on less pay than they were entitled, they would be reported to immigration authorities for breaching their work conditions and be deported.”

Maurice Blackburn has represented more than 40 workers so far who have claimed more than $1.2 million in underpayments. Some of these workers were paid as little as 59¢ an hour, the law firm said.

SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said the union believed exploitation of the workers was continuing.

“Only last week an SDA organiser uncovered staff, after they had been paid, being forced to withdraw half of their wages from an ATM and return it to the store owner,” Mr Dwyer said.

“This is the sort of appalling treatment of workers that has been, and continues to be, going on. No one should be subjected to this sort of treatment and we are taking steps on behalf of our members to make sure that it stops.”

Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.