Sarah Danckert, 14 February 2016

Two former 7-Eleven workers who played a key role in exposing rampant underpayment at the convenience store chain have received their back pay while another worker is expecting to receive $270,000 in unpaid wages from the company.

We all did it together, it’s not just me. There’s the other workers. There’s Fairfax, the ABC, Maurice Blackburn and Michael Fraser.

7-Eleven worker Mohamed Rashid Ullat Thodi

Geelong-based Mohamed Rashid Ullat Thodi​, whose back pay claim dates back to 2007, has received what is believed to be a sizeable five-figure sum after spending nine years pursuing his former boss for underpayment.

Another worker, Pranay Alawala​ – who risked deportation by coming forward to tell his story about being underpaid by two different store owners in Brisbane – has received $33,000 in back pay.

The two workers were represented by Maurice Blackburn pro bono in making their claims to the Fels Wage Fairness Panel. Maurice Blackburn is acting for 60 other current and former 7-Eleven workers and have had hundreds of inquiries from 7-Eleven workers.

A joint investigation by Fairfax Media and 4 Corners exposed systemic underpayment of workers at 7-Eleven’s stores and the complicity of head office in the exploitation of workers.

Yet only last week a Senate hearing heard testimony from Allan Fels, who heads the Fels Wage Fairness Panel, that several 7-Eleven workers who had come forward to make back pay claims had been subject to intimidation by franchisees and in at least one case a worker had been beaten.

Already over $2 million has been paid out to current and former workers with the final back pay bill tipped to exceed $30 million.

Mr Thodi, who worked at 7-Eleven stores in Geelong and South Yarra owned by the same franchisee, said he could not believe it when he checked his bank statement on Friday.

“It means a lot because it’s our hard-earned money. It’s safe to say it’s a fair amount,” Mr Thodi said.

“We all did it together, it’s not just me. There’s the other workers. There’s Fairfax, the ABC, Maurice Blackburn. There’s [consumer advocate] Michael Fraser,” Mr Thodi said.

Mr Thodi won a Fair Work claim against his former boss in 2011 but never received his back pay after the company through which the franchisee owned the store, Bosen Pty Ltd, went into liquidation at around the same time.

Maurice Blackburn employment principal Giri Sivaraman​ said some of the firms’ 7-Eleven clients are owed over $200,000.

“One is owed over $270,000 – which shows the scale of the underpayment and the extent of this crisis,” Mr Sivaraman said. “We believe the Federal Government should also look at mandatory employment education programs for international students and those on working visas.

“Without exception every one of our 7-Eleven clients have said they were unaware of their rights, how much they should be paid or how many hours they should work.”

“I got what I was owed. If I was paid properly in the beginning I would not have had to go down this road,” Mr Alawala said.

Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association national secretary Gerard Dwyer called on the government to provide a visa amnesty for students who had breached their visa conditions by working more hours per week than permissible because their rates of pay were so low.

Consumer advocate Michael Fraser, who aided in the media investigation, said workers who had come forward to make claims were “truly courageous”.

“There is still lots of work to be done but hearing they are getting their backpay gives me the greatest joy. I only hope more come forward,” Mr Fraser said.

Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.