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Education and Employment References Committee
24/09/2015
Australia's temporary work visa programs

FRASER, Mr Michael, Private capacity

[10:05]

CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has received your submission. I invite you to make a short opening statement, after which I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Fraser : I am a business and consumer relationship advocate. For three years I have investigated allegations from 7-Eleven employees who claim they have been grossly underpaid and exploited. I visited 60 stores in three states and spoke to over 100 employees. It started as an investigation to find stores that were underpaying employees, but very quickly became an investigation to find the elusive 'Loch Ness' store that pays the correct wages. To this day I am yet to meet one employee being paid the legal wage, or find a store paying legal wages.

How do I know head office know? Because I have been telling them on a regular basis about the systemic underpayment of employees in three states, since December 2012. I repeatedly wrote to the CEO, Warren Wilmot, and I have recently requested a meeting with the chairman and owner, Russ Withers. Mr Wilmot has never responded, and Mr Withers declined to meet with me or see my evidence. It concerns me greatly that when Natalie Dalbo, the general manager of operations, is known on the inside for her motto: deny, deny, deny. This is the sister of Andrew Dalbo, who owns two of the biggest 7-Elevens and was featured on A Current Affair last night as a franchisee who is underpaying staff, and has also been convicted of not filing tax returns. On multiple occasions from multiple reliable sources, I have been told that the CEO, Mr Wilmot, has ordered the destruction of payroll records, or has suggested to franchisees that they destroy their payroll records. How is it possible for me, with no budget, to stumble on such a big wage fraud scandal, when buying a loaf of bread, yet head office, with all their oversight, find essentially no systemic problem.

It has been suggested to me from multiple reliable sources that the Australian Taxation Office should investigate head office, as franchisees believe head office is not reporting GST correctly. Fair Work appeared to be proud that they had discovered a fraction of a per cent of the wage fraud happening each year in 7-Eleven stores. It is clear they are not doing enough, not following up multi-site offenders and are not using all the powers they have access to. I am hoping this inquiry will lead to many positive changes across the board.

CHAIR: Yesterday in the news there was further information that there was a relationship between 7-Eleven franchisees and the accessing of visas for a fee. The reports yesterday said the fee was between $30,000 and $70,000, and you would have heard the evidence from Mr Ullat Thodi that he is aware that franchisees do offer international students access to permanent visas if they pay a fee. Are you aware of that, given your quite extensive visits to stores?

Mr Fraser : I am very aware of it. The first time I heard about it was through the boss that both Pranay Alawala and Prakash worked for, Mubin Ul Haider. He was one of 7-Eleven's favourite franchisees at one point. I was told it was anything from $40,000 or $50,000 up to $60,000 or $70,000, depending on who you are talking to. It appears to be quite a widespread thing. They tend to use it to get extra money, in addition to underpaying the students.

CHAIR: Do you think it is as widespread as the underpayment of wages is?

Mr Fraser : No, I do not think it is as widespread. There are three types of franchisees that I name in my submission. The ones I call the wolves are the ones who, I think, know they are doing the wrong thing and do not care. They are the ones who are likely to do that kind of thing.

CHAIR: Do they have a relationship with a migration agent? Do you know what happens?

Mr Fraser : That is a good question. I would think they might do. It is really hard to find out in great detail how they go about it, because to go through the full process you essentially have to be someone purchasing a visa. All I know is that I saw an email where Mubin was writing to one of his employees saying, 'Look, I lost my ability to sponsor, but now my wife can sponsor, so here is the certificate to show that you can. You need to come and have a chat with me and I will sort it out.' But what I think actually happens is—

CHAIR: Do you have that email?

Mr Fraser : Yes, I do.

CHAIR: Are you able to table it?

Mr Fraser : I can. I do not have it printed out.

CHAIR: But you can table it?

Mr Fraser : Certainly. They find a way. Mubin, I have heard, does not really give any paperwork to the person. He just says, 'These are all the legal fees. That is why you have to give me so much money and I will sort it out.' But apparently he does not normally even complete a lot of the process that he is supposed to do, anyway.

CHAIR: When you said that one of the franchisees had been found by the tax office not to have filed tax returns, we have heard in evidence this morning that 7-Eleven workers appear to be taxed. Do you think that money is then just filtered back into the employer's bank account?

Mr Fraser: There are variations of the scam. When you look at the paperwork you can line up seven bits of documentation that link to someone walking into the store and buying something, to the end of the day report, to the fuel log, to the pay slip, to the timesheet, to the weekly roster, both the one submitted to head office and the one head office will print out and send back. When you look across them they normally do not add up. I find that when it comes to people submitting their pay records there are various different scams they are running that affect the tax differently. Some people have their pay go into the franchisee's bank account. So I am not quite sure how the tax is worked out, because the franchisee gets all the money into his account. At some that are 7-Eleven's favourite stores the franchisee has all the pays going into their account and then they divvy it out to the employees: 'You have this much and you have this much.'

CHAIR: In cash payments?

Mr Fraser: Yes, cash payments or a bank transfer.

CHAIR: This is the head office paying wages for five or six employees back into the franchisee's bank account.

Mr Fraser: I have heard of as many as 20 employees getting all of their pays going to the one franchisee, and nobody knows anything at head office.

CHAIR: Do you have a paper trail for that?

Mr Fraser: Prakash was employed by Mubin, and Mubin had his bank details on the employment records for years. I have a copy of that.

CHAIR: If you could table that, that would be good. Also, where you talked about the steps between the employee and the head office, do you have a paper trail on that?

Mr Fraser: There are quite a few records. I have tonnes and tonnes of documents and I could probably put something together for you that would demonstrate a range of inconsistencies.

CHAIR: Are you saying that the head office is doing the payroll for all of the franchisees you have visited?

Mr Fraser: Yes.

CHAIR: They get the timesheet saying which employees have worked and for how many hours. Is that what is sent in?

Mr Fraser: Do you want me to walk you through the process?

CHAIR: Yes.

Mr Fraser: The most typical thing is that an employee might work for 50 hours a week in the store and the franchisee at the end of the week submits the hours and he might say that Mohamed worked for 25 hours and he puts in the code that knows which award, and the employee number, and it all sort of pre-populates and then gets submitted to head office with the correct breakdown of hours and hourly rates and things. Head office gets that, and where the money goes depends on whose bank account details are on that employee's record. Head office gets that record and then on every Tuesday or something they will electronically bank the money into the account.

CHAIR: Is the money banked pursuant to the award rate?

Mr Fraser: Yes. When they put the code in it works out the award and the times and does it all for them, so I am told. Then, when the employee has the pay slip, that is why the franchisees say, 'Bring Fair Work in. I don't care,' and they pull out the pay slips showing the hourly rate and the hours worked. Head office will say, 'Sure, you can have the records. You can see it all adds up.' The only thing that Fair Work really ever find is inconsistencies in the fraud, not the fraud, if that makes sense, because there is so much working of the figures going on that you could scratch your head with all these employees as to, 'What fake hours am I putting down for Barry? Was my imaginary wife working that day?'—that kind of thing.

CHAIR: So when you say that the head office is well aware that the workers in the stores are getting $10 an hour, how are they aware of that, if this electronic system is actually paying the award rate?

Mr Fraser : As in, how are head office aware?

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: It's a good question.

Mr Fraser : One of the ways they can be aware is the fact that I constantly tell them; that is one of the ways. The other way is that they can look at various court cases, like the case of Bosen or the case of Mubin Ul Haider from Haider Enterprises. But a lot of staff say: 'I rang head office and told them I was being underpaid, and they told me to go to the Fair Work Ombudsman,' or, 'My district manager came in and I asked him because I found out'—and there was one district manager in Brisbane where the employee was questioning him so much about it that it was too much for him and he was overwhelmed and he quit. But he was saying: 'Not my problem; you really need to go to the ombudsman and sort it out.'

CHAIR: So there is plenty of evidence from all sorts of sources that the head office should have been aware that there were underpayments occurring?

Mr Fraser : Yes.

CHAIR: And your evidence to this committee is: you have got a series of emails and the dates; you have been contacting them.

Mr Fraser : There is as much evidence as to suggest that the earth is not flat.

CHAIR: It is true.

Senator McKENZIE: Do you have any evidence that you would actually like to table for the committee in terms of the methods used by the franchisees around the fraudulent payments?

Mr Fraser : Are you happy with what was in my submission, with the breakdowns there? Have you read my submission? I broke that down—

Senator McKENZIE: Yes. I am just wondering if there is additional documentation.

Mr Fraser : I am happy to give you everything I have got around that. I am more than happy to provide that kind of stuff.

Senator McKENZIE: That would be great. Thank you.

CHAIR: On the Four Corners program, Allan Fels said that if the franchisees paid the award rate they would not be viable. Is that your assessment as well?

Mr Fraser : That head office said—

CHAIR: No, Allan Fels said on the Four Corners program that if the franchisees actually paid the award rates they would no longer be viable because of the way the franchise model is established. Would you agree with that?

Mr Fraser : For sure. I have seen the financials for various stores. I have also literally sat out front of a store for 168 hours in a car, watching it to see what actually happens around the clock. The labour cost is so high. 7-Eleven will tell you, 'You can run a store with one person—you and your wife—and it is all good.' But, when you actually look at it, there are times when a truck comes in and there needs to be two people there: one person to run the store and one to unload the truck. But then the franchisee will bring another person in and he is cleaning out the back. The minimum cost to have someone in a store for 168 hours—we are looking at 168 hours a week over an annum, so, if there was someone working at any one point, you are looking at about $230,000 in labour costs, and then, when you actually have a look at the way the finances are represented or the breakdown is represented, as to the wage costs, the most I have ever seen on a store is $160,000-something. And these are people who have two or three people in a store at any one time. It just could not be done.

CHAIR: This is my last question before I hand over to other senators. One of the issues that was raised in the Four Corners program was the question of whether 7-Eleven was itself complicit in the exploitation of employees and complicit in widespread wage fraud. Do you have evidence, or is it your belief, that 7-Eleven head office was complicit in these matters?

Mr Fraser : It is my belief that they are complicit, for sure. This is what I said to Warren Wilmot in my email, I think several times: if it was one store, I could see why you would say it is not the problem, or if it was two, or maybe even if it was one state; but how does an Indian franchisee in Melbourne and a Pakistani franchisee in Sydney and a Chinese franchisee in Brisbane all know the same scam, and, when you talk to every worker, how do they know that that is just the 7-Eleven model?

So I said to him: 'If this going on, it is systemic and it's not something that can be fixed with a Fair Work complaint or by reporting the franchisee; it is something that must come from head office. They must fix it there, because it's systemic.'

CHAIR: Are head office aware of the visa scam?

Mr Fraser : I think I have written to them about that. I have definitely written about it, and I have heard reports internally that they have read everything I have ever written. Once again, I wrote about Mubin Ul Haider's matters, selling visas et cetera, and I pointed to a ton of evidence in relation to that, so I do not think they could claim deniability.

CHAIR: Have you raised this with Border Force or Immigration?

Mr Fraser : No. I have been so busy with all the other stuff I have not even got to that.

CHAIR: Fair enough.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you, Mr Fraser. One of the questions that are being asked right now is: how important is it for the government to provide an amnesty for students who are on these visas in order for them to have the confidence and courage to come forward?

Mr Fraser : I think it is extremely important. There is a guy I talk to who does not work in a 7-Eleven but knows a large community of Indians and Pakistanis, and he said to me: 'Michael, these 7-Eleven workers want to come forward, but they want the piece of paper. You bring that piece of paper that says they won't get in trouble, and you will be blown away by how many thousands come forward.' So it is very important.

Senator O'NEILL: How soon does that need to happen?

Mr Fraser : Yesterday.

Senator O'NEILL: You have indicated that you are aware of this scam across a large number of stores. Could you give us your views about where the failings are with the Fair Work Ombudsman's response and any recommendations about things that need to change immediately.

Mr Fraser : I do not know how much blame I can necessarily put on individuals or resources and things like that, but I can tell you what I have observed, and that is firstly that students are not aware of the ombudsman. Even the franchisees call it the 'fair workings' or the 'fair tradings'. They do not even know what it is. Once they become aware of it, if you go there it is all in English. It is complex for those of us who grew up in Australia. There is no complaint button. You have to go on some journey of discovery to find out how to actually tell them about it, and then you go back in time 50 years to where you have to submit the stuff in the mail, signed. You cannot fill it out, scan it back in, send it off and have it processed that way. So it is a very antiquated, complex process. So probably the complaint process could really be improved by making it essentially a digital submission. That would simplify the process for them as well.

The other thing is that, when they are alerted to the activities going on in the stores, they just do not seem to be that diligent or that keen to really go and have a dig. As I said, I stumbled across this buying milk and bread, but they raid however many stores and feel proud of themselves because they have found $150,000 in underpayment in so many stores over so many years, but if they are doing everything they can they should be finding at least $60,000 to $80,000 and maybe more underpayment in every store for every year. I really think just going in and asking for the rosters, which we all know are fabricated, and walking out with those records and then requesting records from head office is not enough. Anthony Main from the UNITE union was saying to them ages ago, 'You need to go and get the cash register reconciliation reports; you need to ask for all the corresponding records that would link any one staff member to that shift,' but they just do not seem to be doing it. They can grab the surveillance tapes if it has happened within a few weeks. They can grab the reconciliation reports. In some cases they do not even interview the staff, and in some cases they tell the staff there is no point interviewing them because the staff do not have any evidence. So it is not really much help to anyone.

Senator O'NEILL: It sounds like there is a resource deficit for sure, but there is also a cultural problem, by the sounds of things. Is one of the reasons, perhaps, why people are speaking to you and not speaking to the Fair Work Ombudsman a classic distrust for government organisations and government agencies? Is that a problem that needs to be attended to, or is it something else?

Mr Fraser : I have not experienced them not trusting the ombudsman; it is more that they are not aware of it. Even when you tell them about it, they do not understand what is happening. The reason they are coming to me is that I am actively pursuing them. I am out on the street. I am ringing people. I am asking to talk to people. I have a website up: 'Come to me if you're underpaid. Calculate your back pay.' I am calling for them to come forward. That is why they are speaking to me.

Senator O'NEILL: Can I take you back to your evidence of your communication with 7-Eleven head office. At what date was your first contact with the head office?

Mr Fraser : It was December 2012.

Senator O'NEILL: Have you had, at any point of time, any correspondence in return?

Mr Fraser : They have written back. I could sum up almost every communication I have ever had with them with a few words, which are: 'Not our problem. The franchisee's responsible for paying the wages. We've essentially told them that part of the commitment is that you do the right thing, so it's no longer our responsibility because we've already told them that, so you should just go to Fair Work, and that's all we're going to be saying on the matter.'

Senator O'NEILL: Was that in all cases—Ms Dalbo, Mr Wilmot and Mr Withers—or were there differentiated responses from them?

Mr Fraser : The funny thing is that I cannot actually get a response from anyone but Julie Booth, the communications manager. No-one else would respond. No-one would even tell me, at one point, if Warren Wilmot still worked for the company. It was apparently a big secret. So I just kept asking, then I became aware of Warren Wilmot's email address, so I wrote to him. I wrote to him in such a way that I thought it might make him respond. He responded through Slater and Gordon, who in the first instance appeared to be offering to help when they used the words, 'We're happy to assist any Fair Work complaint if you give us the information.' Then I wrote back and said, 'Thank you for offering to assist,' and they wrote back and said, 'No, we're not assisting; we want to make it clear that we're not assisting,' so I did not really know where I was going after that.

Senator O'NEILL: I will make this my last question. You are in a position with particular insight, Mr Fraser, to give us a range of recommendations about key things that need to change to prevent this sort of exploitation. What are your main recommendations that you think need to happen, and in what time frame?

Mr Fraser : Something needs to happen fast, but I think it is important to mention that this is a culture within head office. It is not something that a few stores are doing. It is not the belief of a few franchisees. This is something that starts at the top. If the culture is bad all the way to the top, there is nothing that the top can do to change it, so I really think that there needs to be a change of management and possibly a change of ownership.

The franchisees that are doing the wrong thing are going to do the wrong thing whether they are making a lot of money or not. If they want to exploit people—and I am talking about the ones I refer to as 'the wolves'—they are going to do it even if they make an extra $500,000 a year. So, when Russ Withers suggests changing the franchise model, giving them more money and updating everything, the reality is that those wolves are still going to keep exploiting people, and they are still going to keep finding ways to scam and get around the new system.

One of my recommendations in the submission is to remove their ability to exploit people by having a system where the staff use their thumb print to operate logging on of the shift and logging off of the shift, working the register and working the storeroom, which already have codes that they need to put in. It would just be a thumb print as opposed to whacking in a code. A franchisee cannot trick the system. There will be a log of all the activity from all the employees, which would make it much harder for a franchisee to exploit a worker and it would also make it much easier for an employee that was being exploited to prove his case should Fair Work request the records. They could simply look at the records and say: 'Yes, the franchisee made you log off after two hours, but why did you work the cash register? What are all these thumb print recognitions for the next eight hours? You must have still been working.' It is pretty much an impossible way to exploit the worker from that point. But, ultimately, the culture is flawed, and until that changes there are always going to be scams running in 7-Eleven.

Senator RICE: Mr Fraser, you talked about the wage costs for a store to be open. If you just had one person, it would cost $230,000 a year to pay them at an award rate. Yet, the largest amount that you have seen is $160,000 in wage costs. How plausible is it, given the starkness of the figures, for head office to say that the underpayment involves just a few rogue employers? In your opinion, does it come down to the fact that the underpayment of employees is part of the business model of 7-Eleven?

Mr Fraser : What initially happened was that the franchisees started talking to me after the Four Cornersprogram—not before. They all came to me for help. They did not trust me. They were telling me, 'We're not doing anything wrong.' When Adele Ferguson wrote that head office were making $140 million, one of them rang me and said: 'We didn't know they were making any money. Head office tell us they don't make any money and we can't get any more money, but now know that head office are making all this money.' This franchisee said, 'Those jets have got to go.' He was talking about Russ Withers' jets. He said: 'Listen, we all underpay. It is essentially what we signed up to. We bought into the model. We all knew what we were getting into. That is the 7-Eleven model.' They are not happy that 7-Eleven are turning around and saying, 'Now the media are watching, you have got to start doing the right thing—but, don't worry, this will all blow over in a few months and you can go back to business.' A couple of weeks ago, one guy from Surfers Paradise packed up and left. He said, 'If I've got to pay the wages properly, I can't afford to survive.' So he abandoned the store and went back overseas.

Senator RICE: In your opinion, if they had to pay award wages, would the 7-Eleven business model be at all viable? What proportion of franchises would be viable if they were paying award wages?

Mr Fraser : I reckon a very small percentage. Probably the ones that are doing really well are in high traffic areas. There are some really little ones in the city that just have a lot of traffic and maybe only one staff member. I think maybe those ones might be viable, but the majority are struggling. They are telling me: 'I have a $1 million loan on this business. I have hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in wages that I have to pay, if I am paying correctly. I can't do it.' I have heard stories that franchisees are going to commit suicide. There are broken marriages. There are a lot of really bad stories.

Senator RICE: You talked about the culture, that it is not just a few rogue franchisees, that there is a culture right from the top of using methods to try to beat the system and that underpaying is throughout the system—the half-pay time sheets. Can you tell us about the cash-back method that was used as well. What do you know about that?

Mr Fraser : What seems to happen with some of the franchisees—and, like I said, there are three kinds of franchisees—is that they just underpay to survive, but to survive there is always a scam. Whenever a scam has been stopped—like the half-pay scam essentially had to stop; head office cracked down on it for the media—they adapt. I think it was within 48 hours of the Four Corners running that staff were calling us from all over Australia and saying, 'There's a new scam! There's a new scam!' And then the franchisees were telling me that there was a new scam. Everyone was getting the paid the correct wages—or the majority of the stores were paying correct wages—but then the franchisee says, 'When your pay goes in, you owe me this much money of your pay. You have got $670, bring $400 in tomorrow,' and they have got to hand it off camera. Somewhere around the back of the store they give the franchisee cash. That is the new scam. The hard thing for the employees is that there is no way of proving that they gave money back.

Senator RICE: But your evidence was from all over the country that it suddenly happened.

Mr Fraser : Yes, within 48 hours.

Senator RICE: Do you think that it is at all plausible that it could have just sprung up in stores all over the country without head office having known about it?

Mr Fraser : How do we all get the same idea at once?

Senator PERIS: Mr Thodi, a previous witness, said that universities could become more involved in providing workers rights for students. Out of those three years of collecting allegations from 60 stores, 100 employees, how many of them were actually students on the student visa 573?

Mr Fraser : Probably 95 per cent of them.

Senator PERIS: Could you agree that the universities could become more involved in providing information?

Mr Fraser : I think Mohammed's idea was great. Mohammed and I discussed almost going to India, finding the recruitment companies and getting them to give out a kit: 'You are going to Australia, here is an information kit.' Really, the Fair Work website needs to have a version in every language; you cannot just have an English one and expect people to know or understand it. If you had a kit there and they say, 'Go to Urdu or whatever.com, and there is all the wage information you need when you are starting a job.' The franchisees are not going to tell them.

Senator McKENZIE: I want to get an understanding of your background as a consumer advocate.

Mr Fraser : Sorry, I thought there was more—

Senator McKENZIE: Who are you?

Mr Fraser : I am just a guy. I was bullied at school and I do not like bullies. It is hard.

Senator McKENZIE: I am just wondering. You obviously made friends with your local 7-Eleven guy, you saw that he was being exploited, you wanted to understand up against that exploitation, and I think it has been fantastic that the abuse that 7-Eleven has wrought on this particular cohort has been brought to light. How are you funded, as you said, to sit for 168 hours outside a 7-Eleven,? How do you make a living?

Mr Fraser : I have been involved in other advocacies since 2012, and from time to time I do little bits of software jobs because I taught myself software programming. I do things like that to make a little bit of money, but ultimately I tend to go without. Even this suit was provided by a kind donor. For me it was not about money, and with the 7-Eleven thing—

Senator McKENZIE: No, it is not about money. I am just wondering how you run your Arbitrator website, how—

Mr Fraser : Yes, essentially with great difficulty. I have had people give me little jobs here and there doing bits of software to help them with their website, and things like that, but it has generally been a pretty tight budget. Sometimes I do help people, I might help someone settle an insurance case or something.

Senator McKENZIE: So your background is in law?

Mr Fraser : No, my background is in a number of industries, but nothing professionally. I would be best described as a concerned citizen that started doing this full-time at his own expense because I care.

Senator McKENZIE: I appreciate how it started but from reading your submission it has been quite an extensive investigation. It is just a bit difficult to put food on the table I imagine.

Mr Fraser : It is! Yes I have had people say, 'You should stop fighting for everyone else's wages and start fighting for your own.'

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, I can imagine who might be saying that!

In your submission there are a lot of things laid out about quotes et cetera. I am wondering about the hard documentation of the methods used by 7-Eleven. Could you table actual documentation on notice if you have it? That would be great.

Mr Fraser : Sure.

Senator McKENZIE: In your opinion, how long has this been going on within 7-Eleven?

Mr Fraser : From talking to a range of ex-staff, current staff, franchisees and insiders: decades.

Senator McKENZIE: This has been going on for decades—prior to the Fair Work Ombudsman even being in existence?

Mr Fraser : Yes, definitely. I had a guy say to me, 'Come 8 October', which is when the new business model is going to be announced, 'if they don't get what they want, I'll be at the next Senate hearing and I'll turn that billionaire into a millionaire.' He says it has been going on since the nineties and he was underpaid in the nineties. He is a franchisee and now underpays. He does not want to underpay. He feels like a criminal but is forced to to survive. It is horrible.

Senator McKENZIE: I think the thing in this whole conversation is that people do have choices at the end of the day. I can choose to go over the speed limit to get to the appointment on time or I can be late. But that is a philosophical debate.

Mr Fraser : And I do not condone the behaviour. I admire someone who acknowledges they are doing the wrong thing and tries to make it right. That is the most important thing.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, absolutely. You reported this repeatedly to 7-Eleven head office?

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Did you report it—and when—to the Fair Work Ombudsman?

Mr Fraser : No, I did not. I was not experienced in this and was not exactly sur what I should be doing in the beginning. Normally the process is to talk to the individuals at the lower level and then report it back to, say, the company that is involved and try to get some action out of them, but, with the results I was seeing with the Fair Work Ombudsman, I did not really know what they were going to do.

Senator McKENZIE: So obviously you did not get any joy with head office. It sounds like they have been very obstructionist and elusive, even downright negligent. At some point in what you stated is a very long journey, if head office was not doing anything, where did you think to go to next?

Mr Fraser : I thought we had to take some legal action, which is not normally my first preference.

Senator McKENZIE: You chose legal action over the Fair Work Ombudsman?

Mr Fraser : I had already been observing the cases that were not going anywhere. I thought the Fair Work Ombudsman were only going to take action against a franchisee here and there. They were saying it was individual stores. I was saying it was systemic. I looked at a legal option that would encapsulate all stores in one action, and that is why I went to Levitt Robinson Solicitors and spoke to Stewart Levitt about a possible class action.

Senator McKENZIE: Right. How much does it cost to get a franchise in 7-Eleven?

Mr Fraser : At the moment, they are probably half price—

Senator McKENZIE: It's a buyers' market!

Mr Fraser : Yes. At the moment, it could be anything from $350,000 right up to $1.2 million or more. I heard someone recently bought one for $1.5 million, but I heard one the other day advertised for $350,000 which I think was $600,000 prior to Four Corners.

Senator McKENZIE: You made some comments to Senator O'Neill about amnesty. We heard earlier from Mr Thodi that the department of immigration was very quick at granting him the documentation he needed to go forward with going public. He was very thankful for that because it gave him the protection he needed. Why do we need an amnesty if the department is responding to that point in a time of crisis?

Mr Fraser : As I was not around at that time and involved in the issue, I do not know exactly how it take place.

Senator McKENZIE: You could review his evidence after the hearing. It will be in the Hansard. I would appreciate your answer to that question on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. We certainly appreciate your evidence this morning and your absolute diligence on behalf of those workers at 7-Eleven who have been ripped off. We appreciate all the work that you have done and for coming here today to give evidence before the Senate committee.

Proceedings suspended from 10:44 to 11:03