We're all familiar with the 7-Eleven convenience stores and
more often than not, have relied upon them being open to get a late
night snack or an emergency supply. But have you ever considered
what it's like to work for a 7-Eleven store? You could be
buying your snack from someone who's being exploited, but is
between a rock and a hard place if they try to do anything about
A raid instigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman last year, showed
that of the 20 stores audited, 60% were underpaying their staff.
Many of the 4,000 staff members working across 620 outlets
nation-wide are international students on student visas, which
means that they can only work up to a maximum of 20 hours a week.
If they work more, they're in breach of their visa conditions,
and not likely to complain about underpayment because of the risk
to their visas.
A recent investigation by Four Corners and Fairfax has revealed
that aside from systemic underpayments, 7-Eleven franchisees have
also been fabricating employee records, to conceal the true hours
worked by their staff, and now the Fair Work Ombudsman and the
immigration authorities are all over it.
The focus on award compliance arising from the 7-Eleven scandal
raises another important issue from an employer's point of
If you aim to pay minimum award rates, you and the employees
are likely to be conscious of the award rules, and see the
relationship as being governed by the award.
What if you pay above the award and your staff are happy? Does
it matter if you're not complying with all the provisions of
Many employers assume that so long as they pay above the minimum
wage, the award is irrelevant – "No, he's not an
award employee" - and they don't need to concern
themselves with the finer details. That's incorrect - the award
applies to employees within its scope, even if paid above
Although you may be meeting the minimum pay obligations under
the relevant award, you still need to comply with the other clauses
which may affect how you operate your business. For example, there
are provisions in awards which deal with how much notice you need
to give to someone if you want to change their roster, when you can
direct staff to take leave, how many breaks they're entitled
to, what rates you have to pay them on weekends or outside certain
hours, and whether you need to pay annual leave loading or other
If you're paying well above the award wage, it's likely
that overtime, penalties and allowances are included in the hourly
rate, but have you made this clear to your employee? In the absence
of an "offset clause" in your employment contract, or
something similar, there is a risk that the employee can claim $X
÷ 38 = $Y per hour, and that overtime etc are to be added to
Small underpayments can escalate into large claims, as an
employee can claim back over six years. If you're mistakenly
underpaying one employee, it's likely that you're
mistakenly underpaying others, and one successful claim can easily
result in claims from others.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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