A new class action lawsuit may help 7-Eleven workers regain hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen wages. The stolen wages scam was first uncovered by UNITE – the fighting union for fast food and retail workers in Victoria during 2008. It operates whereby franchisees doctor their books to pay workers only half of what they are entitled to.
Recently other people have complained about this rort in Brisbane and Sydney. It is clear that 7-Eleven head office is complicit in this scam as they have a high level of supervision over the stores and are responsible for administering the payroll.
While UNITE’s campaigning has already led to the recovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars this is merely the tip of the iceberg. There has potentially been tens of millions of dollars stolen in recent years. It is clear that 7-Eleven stores operate on a model built on the systematic super-exploitation of predominantly international student workers.
UNITE has been campaigning to build a union presence at 7-Eleven stores. The isolated nature of the work and intimidation by employers often leaves workers afraid to question their entitlements or stand up to their boss as an individual. This is why collective action is so important.
As well as the half-pay scam, many workers do not receive their break entitlements or penalty rates. Many have their pay illegally docked when cash registers don’t balance, and are forced to work for free for up to 4 weeks of ‘training’.
Stewart Levitt, a well known lawyer from Sydney, is currently looking at the possibility of launching legal action against 7-Eleven. There may already be enough evidence to run a case that would recover at least a portion of the wages stolen.
7-Eleven is essentially a poverty wage employer. For workers across the world, the shining example in the fight against poverty wages has been set in the USA. In 2006 millions of low wage immigrant workers participated in strikes. In 2011 fast food walkouts began in New York spearheading the growth of a national strike movement incorporating workers from Walmart, KFC, McDonald’s and more. The workers were collectively demanding a considerable increase to the minimum wage.
Then in 2013, following the election of Socialist City Councillor Kshama Sawant, a campaign for a $15 minimum wage in that city was successful. Seattle was the first city in the US to win a $15 minimum wage. The new organisation 15Now is now leading the charge in the struggle to spread this victory across the country.
This new phase of the campaign for wage justice at 7-Eleven in Australia will hopefully help to expose the fraudulent practices of this big business and win back at least part of the money stolen from the workers.
Ultimately though, to end these types of scams once and for all, it will be necessary to learn from the example being set in the USA. The first step is to build a fighting union presence at 7-Eleven and in other fast food and retail outlets.
By Ben Convey