More than 30 people attended a protest outside a South Yarra 7-Eleven store on September 18. The action was organised by UNITE, the union campaigning against the underpayment of wages in 7-Eleven stores.
The protest targeted this particular store because Eddie Chan has interests in the business. Until recently Chan also owned the Moorabool Street 7-Eleven store in Geelong where he paid his workers only half of the wages they were owed.
UNITE estimates that workers employed by Chan are owed more than $100,000. So far Chan has refused to pay up despite being ordered to do so by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Hundreds of leaflets were handed out to South Yarra locals and the front of the store was draped with banners and placards explaining the situation. The overwhelming majority of local residents were shocked to hear that people who have worked in the store had been paid as little as $10 an hour and others had done unpaid trials for up to 2 months.
While the local residents were very supportive of the campaign, the local police were shocked to see a protest in the quiet, leafy streets of South Yarra. The police turned up to the action and brought with them a riot van and members of the Critical Incident Response Team!
Some locals thought that they had come to arrest Eddie Chan but unfortunately they had come to tell UNITE members not to block the entrance to the store, not to hand out leaflets and not to talk to people!
The protesters were not deterred and insisted that it was their right to inform people about the dodgy practices that Eddie Chan was involved in. Once the police saw that UNITE were getting support from the local community they retreated.
UNITE Secretary Anthony Main made the point that the person breaking the law in this dispute was Eddie Chan. When a boss steals more than $100,000 from his workers people have to take to the streets for the matter to be taken seriously, yet when UNITE hands out a few leaflets on the street the authorities are swift to act.
UNITE is not only calling on Chan to pay back the money owed. The Fair Work Ombudsman must pursue Chan and prosecute him for breaches of workplace law. Anything less would be a green light to other employers who want to undermine minimum wages and conditions.
The action was successful in highlighting the issue to South Yarra locals and the dispute was covered in the Geelong Advertiser and Sunday Herald Sun. UNITE has pledged to continue the campaign until Chan pays up and 7-Eleven stops the widespread underpayment of workers.
Postscript:Since this article was written the Fair Work Ombudsman has announced that they will be conducting a state-wide audit of 7-Eleven stores in Victoria.
By UNITE reporters