On Friday February 13 more than 100 people attended a rally outside the 7-Eleven store in the heart of Geelong. The protest called for 7-Eleven to start paying its workers the legal minimum wage and for all unpaid wages to be paid back to them. The rally was also demanding that one of the workers, who was sacked for making a complaint, be reinstated.
The 7-Eleven store on Moorabool Street is particularly dodgy. The operator makes any new employees work for up to 2 months in what he calls an “unpaid trial”. When he realised that some of the workers were thinking of reporting his illegal behavior to the Workplace Ombudsman, he threatened them with violence. Despite this, while breaking nearly every law in the book, 7-Eleven still had the audacity to visit the Geelong Police station on the morning before the rally asking them to put a stop to it!
Despite their attempts the rally went ahead and was very successful. The action was broad based and vibrant, with many unions affiliated to the Geelong Trades Hall Council (GTHC) attending. Some people stopped work to attend while others came down during their lunch break. Many 7-Eleven workers, past and present also came along.
Hundreds of leaflets outlining 7-Eleven’s despicable employment practices were distributed. Many people also stopped to sign the petition or to have a chat. Many Geelong locals tooted their car horns in support as they drove past. Some people took leaflets pledging to letterbox their streets.
Tim Gooden, Secretary of the GTHC was the MC on the day and led the rally in chants such as “Low pay? NO WAY!” Anthony Main, Secretary of UNITE, spoke outlining the background to this dispute so far. He explained that despite the bullying and intimidation the workers were not about to back down.
An ex-worker from the store named Kholi, who is still waiting to be paid for working on Christmas day last year, also spoke. Kholi got by far the best response from the rally. He gave a first hand account of the horrible conditions in the store and explained that most of the workers 7-Eleven employ are vulnerable international students. Due to the low wages they pay, 7-Eleven forces the workers to work over the 20 hour limit imposed by their visa regulations. This is happening on a mass scale.
Kholi also explained the need for workers from all companies and industries to stop 7-Eleven from exploiting their workers. “If we allow them to get away with it here more and more companies will be trying to follow” he said.
Both Tim and Anthony called on 7-Eleven to sort out these problems and to sort them out quickly. As Tim said “when you treat Geelong locals like this, you have no longer just involved the workers and UNITE. You have involved the entire trade union movement”. If 7-Eleven continue to refuse to stick to the law further protests both in Geelong and in Melbourne will ensue.
By Kirk Leonard