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Education and Employment References Committee
Australia's temporary work visa programs

DWYER, Mr Gerard, National Secretary and Treasurer, Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association

PATIL, Mr Rahul, Private capacity

SANGAREDDYPETA, Mr Nikhil Kumar, Private Capacity

WASEEM, Mr Ussama, Private capacity

CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has received your submission; thank you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement of no more than a few minutes, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Dwyer : I simply refer the committee to the list of recommendations that we have included in our submission on page 9. We call out the primary concerns that we have in this 7-Eleven matter. The key elements for us are the acknowledgement of underpayments, be it with wages or non-observance of conditions, which should be seen and taken as exploitation driven primarily by a severe power imbalance in the relationship between a visa worker and the employer. We obviously spend a lot of time trying to call out the issue of coercion where people are encouraged to breach their visa conditions. We seek the government to put in place a special amnesty visa which a person being employed under a student visa, a migrant worker visa, a holiday-maker visa or a 457 visa could activate. We are seeking that the person simply by coming forward could activate that amnesty visa. Then the onus would be on the authorities to overturn that amnesty visa if it was found that the individual was the person at fault. What we are seeing in this is that it is the employees who are the victims and the system at the moment puts the onus on them to prove that they should not suffer the consequences of immigration law. We would like to see the onus reversed.

The other key items in our submission go to the Fair Work Ombudsman's resources. This is incredible in terms of the workload that is out there in this space. We would say it is not realistic to consider that the Fair Work Ombudsman are able to appropriately enforce the labour laws in this country, for a range of reasons included in this submission. We believe that additional resources should be given to that government body.

The other key element of our submission is that we are seeking the separation of the inspectorate powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman, which should be focused on upholding Labor standards. We want that separated clearly from any dual obligations that they have with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. I know that in 2012 there was an overlap of those powers for the 457 visa workers. What we are seeing now is that the perception out there now is that the requirement of fair work inspectors to share information with the immigration department is not just restricted to 457s but goes to all visa workers. Student workers feel as though they too cannot put their hand up and go to Fair Work, because they would be putting their visa entitlements at risk.

I might leave my comments there.

CHAIR: Thank you. We had reports yesterday of an additional scam at 7-Eleven where some franchisees are offering the opportunity for a substantial fee of anything between $30,000 and $70,000 to provide a permanent visa. Is there anyone who can give us evidence around that today?

Mr Waseem : I have not got the evidence for that, but there are lots of franchisees who offer permanent visas. They tell their employees that they are going to support them and sponsor the visas. They are going to stay with them for a couple of years and serve them as employees. There have been cases. At present I cannot provide evidence, but it goes around.

CHAIR: Do you know what the cost of that sponsorship would be?

Mr Waseem : I am not sure, but around $45,000 to $50,000. That is what we are talking about.

CHAIR: And how do you know this? Do you know this through friends?

Mr Waseem : Yes.

CHAIR: Has anyone else heard this?

Mr Patil : There was an employee who used to work with me. All I know is that the manager promised that he was going to sponsor his visa, because his visa was about to expire. I was not aware of any fees that he was charging him, but I was aware that he was going to be working there just because the manager was going to sponsor his visa.

CHAIR: Mr Dwyer, a number of witnesses this morning have talked about the issue of amnesty so that students can come forward confidently knowing that, if they make a complaint against their employer and they have worked over their 20 hours, they are not going to be deported. If we had that as a condition, would you still want the separation between the inspectorate and the enforcement and also the dual obligation?

Mr Dwyer : Yes.

CHAIR: So why do you want an amnesty and the getting rid of the dual obligation?

Mr Dwyer : We say removal of the dual obligation is consistent with international labour standards and consistent with the ILO advice in this area. It is also consistent with the Australian government's guides, in terms of good governance in a range of areas. So we think that needs to be done. We think that would give employees in a whole range of sectors confidence going forward that, where labour law issues arise for them, they can come forward and go to the Fair Work Ombudsman, which is what they have been set up to do—uphold those standards. We think, though, that the amnesty visa needs to work in conjunction with that because they both need to be there to encourage people to come forward. Resources are limited, even if there are additional resources given to the Fair Work Ombudsman. Every organisational department has a limitation on its resources. We are trying to propose a system whereby it encourages people to come forward where there are issues. That will create a significant culture change in workplaces where this has been prevalent and we would like to think a communitywide change so that people will simply come forward where exploitation is taking place.

CHAIR: We heard evidence this morning that the Fair Work Ombudsman's approach has been a spot check here and there and yet the evidence from other people this morning seems to say that the issue of underpayment at 7-Eleven is systemic and widespread. What do you think the extent of the problem is at 7-Eleven?

Mr Dwyer : It is systematic and widespread. We as a union got very little engagement in 7-Eleven over a number of years, and this was just officials on their rounds and occasionally dropping in and handing out material. We now know why there was no engagement.

CHAIR: From workers, you mean?

Mr Dwyer : From workers. They were seeing a union official in the same frame as an immigration inspector. We were officials. It is systematic and it is widespread. We say that because why is it that, across a whole range of states on a large continent, there was no engagement? It just does not ring true. The other thing is that we had set up a helpline through the telephone and then a website where a number of the guys reached out, and they continue to come. I say it is systematic because the theme is so consistent.

CHAIR: What is that theme?

Mr Dwyer : The guys might be able to go to the actual different rates themselves, but the themes we were seeing included that, quite often, they have to work double the hours that are on their pay slip. Effectively, they are getting half the pay. That is quite common. The other common approach is that people work the right hours, but, to make sure they get the wages down to the $9, $10 and $11 rates, people are required to give that back as cash and that cash is often used by the franchisee to pay other employees who do not appear on the books anywhere. It is a recycling of the wages outlay to pay others in cash. This is a summary from one of the states. We have been pushing the inquiries back to the relevant branches. Those two items occur time and time again in this summary.

CHAIR: Is that something you could table that we would understand?

Mr Dwyer : I could, Chair, but I come up against the problem that has hampered us right through this process. Most of these are accompanied by: 'Please don't disclose my identity.'

CHAIR: We would be happy if you give us a redacted version.

Mr Dwyer : I can do that, but I would have to take it away.

CHAIR: I am sure we can redact. We are very good at that.

Mr Dwyer : The other thing is that the flat rate—and the flat rate does vary—applies for night work, weekend work and public holidays. We are also starting to see issues emerge around superannuation.

CHAIR: What are you seeing?

Mr Dwyer : In some circumstances, it is just not paid. They are told when they start, 'This is just an account.' They might have to fill out some paperwork which can be shown to others upon inspection, but nothing goes in. Others tell us that some super has gone in, but, obviously, if you are getting half the pay, you are not getting your full super entitlement.

CHAIR: Are they paying to the industry fund or are they paying to other sorts of funds?

Mr Dwyer : I do not have detail on that. There are some general comments on super. The other questions that arise for us are about tax.

CHAIR: What are you discovering on tax?

Mr Dwyer : For figures that appear to be below the tax threshold, tax has been taken out.

CHAIR: Where no tax is required to be paid?

Mr Dwyer : On the figures we have seen, there would be no tax.

CHAIR: So where do you think that money is going?

Mr Dwyer : I cannot make comment. I just do not know. That has only come to light in the last 24 hours.

CHAIR: Do you think that is going back to the employer? Would that be one of the areas you might have suspicion?

Mr Dwyer : Suspicion, yes, but I have no evidence.

CHAIR: Sure.

Mr Dwyer : The other things that are unfortunate but recurring themes are that 7-Eleven employees have to compensate the franchisee for losses arising from shoplifting and, if their tills are short, there is another common pattern that they have to make up the difference in the till at the end of their shift. This is for people who are getting $9, $10, $11 and $12 an hour.

CHAIR: The other issue that emerged this morning was, where workers are injured, they are not being told that they have a right under workers compensation to lodge a claim. Is that something you have also discovered?

Mr Dwyer : That may well be the case, but that has not been the issue that has came through the database to us. It has primarily been on wages and the way the scam works, in terms of—

CHAIR: The workers may still be unaware of their right to workers compensation.

Mr Dwyer : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Perhaps we will quickly hear the stories from the three gentlemen and then other senators will ask questions. We can start with you, Mr Waseem.

Mr Waseem : Good morning. I just came here to discuss my story. I started working at 7-Eleven in March 2014. I was trained for one week without pay. I did not receive any compensation for training or any salary. Then I worked for two months and my employer raised my salary to $12. I initially started at $11. I worked there until August 2014. In the meantime, he kept on paying me at $12 an hour and paid tax deductions and superannuation. I am not sure about the percentage of superannuation.

CHAIR: He took super out of your pay?

Mr Waseem : He took super out of my pay and tax as well.

CHAIR: Do you understand that the employer is supposed to pay superannuation on top of your pay?

Mr Waseem : No.

CHAIR: Maybe Mr Dwyer can talk you through that later. There was a deduction for super and there was a deduction for tax.

Mr Waseem : For tax as well.

CHAIR: How much were you earning per week?

Mr Waseem : It ranged from $300 to $450 a week.

CHAIR: Mr Dwyer, help us here if you can. Is $300 below the tax threshold?

Mr Dwyer : Yes, that would be, in terms of the ABS.

CHAIR: So, when you were earning $300, tax was being taken out?

Mr Waseem : Yes.

CHAIR: And super. I am so disgusted.

Mr Waseem : Further, whenever the incident of shoplifting happened, I was made to pay, plus, if my till ever ran short at the end of the shift, I was made to compensate. I got a deducted salary for whatever the till was short. There was a shoplifting case and I was made to compensate for the items the shoplifter took. The employer did a little audit of his own so that he could know which things were missing. I did not agree with that audit; I think the employer deducted more than what was shoplifted.

CHAIR: I want to follow up on the tax and super again. Did you get a pay slip that said 'tax', with some dollars against that, and 'super'?

Mr Waseem : I have a group certificate which shows the amount of tax deducted as a whole by the end of the year.

CHAIR: You were getting $12 an hour. Were you working more hours than you were paid for?

Mr Waseem : Yes, I was working more hours.

CHAIR: Mr Dwyer just told us that in some cases where workers worked more hours they had to pay that money to the boss to give to other workers. Did that happen to you?

Mr Waseem : No, it did not happen to me, because the salary was directly transferred to my account after the tax deduction and superannuation deduction. So you could say that the number of hours I worked sort of matches with the salary after all of the deductions.

CHAIR: How much were they deducting for super and for tax?

Mr Waseem : I am not sure of the amount. There was a percentage, but I am not sure what it was.

CHAIR: But you do not have a pay slip that shows those deductions, you have just got your group certificate?

Mr Waseem : I just have my group certificate, not the salary.

CHAIR: Mr Dwyer, is that something you could table?

Mr Dwyer : Yes, we can table that. I cannot speak for the gentlemen at the table, but another constant theme is not getting the pay slips.

CHAIR: Okay. Thank you, Mr Waseem. Mr Sangaraeddypeta.

Mr Sangareddypeta : I started working in December 2013. I had one week of unpaid training. I was also asked to pay them $50 cash for the job. Later on, when they guaranteed my work—

CHAIR: You got the $50 back?

Mr Sangareddypeta : Yes, in the third week, when I started really working. They used to pay me $10 per hour. They said that they would increase it after checking my performance. I worked for $10 per hour for two months and then they increased it to $11. They then started giving me night shifts. They paid me $12 at night and $11 in the day. After six months they increased my pay again—to $13 and $14. They said they would increase it to $17, but that never happened. I worked until the middle of June 2015. It was a flat $14 in the night-time and $13 in the day. Unfortunately, I was terminated by then because I could not turn up to one of my shifts. I told them I was sick.

CHAIR: You missed one shift and they terminated you?

Mr Sangareddypeta : Yes, just one shift. All I got was a message saying, 'I can't keep your position anymore.'

CHAIR: Were you having tax and superannuation taken out of your pay?

Mr Sangareddypeta : I used to get some emails from REST Industry Super on superannuation. I used to work for only 20 hours and the tax was never taken out.

CHAIR: Sorry, did you have tax taken out or not?

Mr Sangareddypeta : No, because I gave only 20 hours availability.

CHAIR: So you were below the tax threshold. But you are not sure whether superannuation came out of your pay?

Mr Sangareddypeta : I am unsure about the super.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Mr Patil.

Mr Patil : My story is pretty much the same. I came here for my master's degree. I was giving out my resume everywhere to find a part-time job to support my expenses. There was a 7-Eleven shop right next to the university. I got the chance to meet the manager and he told me he could train me and give me a job. I was happy at that time because it was really hard to find a job with no experience at all and being new in the country. I was told the pay would be $10 and that is what I would get at any 7-Eleven. I was okay with that because it was desperate times and I had to pay my rent. I ended up working there for 12 months. Over time, when I went to university and spoke to people I realised that that was not how much they should be paying me. I talked to the manager. After a lot of thought, he said he would increase my pay to $11. After working there for 12 months I finished my course and I went back home for some time. When I came back to Australia, I did not go back to work there because the amount of exploitation I had been through had got me down a lot. And then I was in no state to find a new job because I thought that would be what they would offer me.

CHAIR: Did you work many hours for $10?

Mr Patil : When I came to Australia the visa said I could work 40 hours per fortnight. So I did keep up with that. I worked 18 to 20 hours a week because I had to go to uni as well.

CHAIR: How did you all come to work for 7-Eleven? Why 7-Eleven? Did someone tell you it was a good place to work? Many of you are Indian students.

Mr Waseem : I am from Pakistan and a lot of Pakistanis do work there. It is just that it was near the university. When I entered university and searched around for some jobs, I found 7-Eleven to be the easiest to find a job. I went to some other shops as well, but that is the first job I got.

Mr Sangareddypeta : The recruitment process is quite simple there. You just need to drop your resume in the store. There is not much of a process. I was told by my friends that is easy to get a job at 7-Eleven.

Mr Patil : I was giving out resumes for about a month. After that I got to the point where I really needed a job. I did not hear back from anyone. But then 7-Eleven was the one who got back to me, so I was happy with it at that time.

Senator RICE: Thank you very much for all of your evidence. When you were being paid $10 to $14 an hour was that reflected in any pay slips that you got? We heard evidence this morning that the records were being fabricated so that, when the pay records were sent to head office, it seemed that the right rate of pay was being paid.

Mr Waseem : I have never got my salary slip; I have never seen that. But, yes, it is a normal practice that sometimes they fabricate the number of hours and the salary they are paying, the pay rate. It is common practice that the employers double the rate and cut the number of hours in half to represent—

Senator RICE: Do you know whether that happened to you?

Mr Waseem : I did not know then, but I discovered later that that practice was going on.

Mr Patil : I never had a pay slip as such given to me. But my manager was really smart; he used to get me to sign something when there were a lot of customers in the line. I think it was the pay slips that he was keeping for his records, but nothing was ever given to me.

Mr Sangareddypeta : I used to get the pay slips. If I worked for 20 hours, they used to show 10 hours at the original rate. They also asked us to sign the blank sheet to witness that we worked for only 10 hours. They used to give us a blank sheet and get us to sign for the number of hours.

Senator RICE: When you started work, were you given any information at all about your rights as workers?

Mr Sangareddypeta : No.

Mr Patil : I was told that is what you get. It is no good, Senator.

Senator RICE: When you became aware that you were being underpaid and not being paid your training wage and things like that, what did you do?

Mr Waseem : I became aware of the original rate—I was already unemployed. I was not working for 7-Eleven when I came to know that the original legal pay rate is something different from what I had been paid. The first thing I had in my mind was to contact Fair Work or anyone, and I came across SDA. That is how—

Senator RICE: You contacted the union at that stage. Mr Dwyer, how long has three SDA been aware that 7-Eleven has been underpaying employees?

Mr Dwyer : We became aware of this at the time the Four Corners and Fairfax article broke.

Senator McKENZIE: How many workers do you represent in this sector?

Mr Dwyer : We have almost no members in 7-Eleven. In my opening comments, I think I mentioned that over the years any engagement from 7-Eleven employees—as you know union membership is voluntary. People might be left literature or invited to join. That was the outcome.

Senator McKENZIE: I will let Senator Rice pursue her questions. Apologies.

Senator RICE: So you are not aware of the history of Fair Work's engagement with 7-Eleven. They raided some franchisees in 2009.

Mr Dwyer : It is fair to say that I was aware of some activity by Fair Work in 7-Eleven. There had been some media on that. In terms of the actual detail, no. Since that story broke and a number of bodies tried to make it easier for people to reach out, outside their workplace, that is when the detail came to us.

Senator RICE: Mr Waseem, did you approach the SDA after or before the Four Corners program?

Mr Waseem : It was after.

Senator RICE: What is the SDA doing now, Mr Dwyer, to address this issue and, particularly, what seems to be the systemic nature of it?

Mr Dwyer : We have publicly called on the government to put in place the amnesty visa, as we have again called for it today. We have put in place a telephone helpline and we did that very quickly. We took a few days to build a website. Since the website we have put it out there on Facebook as well and it continues to generate feedback. We are also engaging with the Fair Work Ombudsman and others in this space and we will continue to talk to Maurice Blackburn. The parties are keen to try to get a resolution. At the moment we have people or organisations out there receiving information from 7-Eleven workers, and we are committed to trying to bring that together with the relevant authorities. We want to get a just outcome for these and other workers from 7-Eleven who have reached out.

Senator RICE: To be clear, over a long period of time these workers would have come under your union but, you say, you had not previously taken action prior to Four Corners because—I find it strange that we have this major retail chain and you have not taken any action in support of those—

Senator McKENZIE: So do I. The right and the left, in any agreement about this, Mr Dwyer.

Mr Dwyer : There is a chain; there is a brand there called 7-Eleven. In effect, they are all small-business operations, because they are franchised. Yes, we have constitutional coverage of 7-Eleven. I think I have indicated that membership in that chain is very low, but we cannot force people to be members. We have dropped in at 7-Elevens over the years. But we are also an organisation that has members and members need servicing, and we service those members. We also recruit members in a whole host of other chains. What happens is, where you are recruiting and people take up membership, you tend to become more active in that chain. That is exactly what happens. The problem in 7-Eleven is those initial numbers coming on board were not there. Now, we know why.

Senator O'NEILL: In the light of evidence that has been received this morning, Mr Dwyer, in some cases, where there has been sufficient time of being aware that there is going to be a claim against them, some franchisees removed their ownership of property and cars and other assets to a position where they were then able to declare themselves bankrupt. The outcome was that there was no money available for redress of underpayments and other matters that were brought. Do you have a concern about the time between placing of the action and the recovery from franchisees? Also, could you speak to your view of the responsibility of the head office of 7-Eleven?

CHAIR: It is very difficult to hear you via teleconference and I will leave it to Mr Dwyer to work out whether he heard it all. Would you like Senator O'Neill to repeat any of that?

Mr Dwyer : If I heard it correctly, in terms of structuring these small businesses so that there are no assets there to be able to pay, in terms of preparing claims, the time delay is a concern. If the amnesty were put in place we think this would move a whole lot quicker. We are quite sure that larger numbers would come forward and put their names to claims, which is one of the issues we continue to have.

With regard to head office, we are of a view that this has been so systematic and the patterns so clear that we struggle to be convinced that head office did not know this system was in place, in some fashion. The representatives of the 7-Eleven workers with me today are from two states. We had an employee from another state who pulled out because they were not comfortable about coming. So it does not matter which state you go to, the stories are very similar. With the framework of the exploitation, there are patterns. We as a union struggle to believe that head office was not aware of this, in some form.

Senator O'NEILL: Have you made any approaches to individual franchisees since you had information come to your attention or have you had any communications with 7-Eleven head office?

Mr Dwyer : We have not had any communication with 7-Eleven head office. Our work, to date, has been about trying to get some shape to the claims and then trying to convince the 7-Eleven workers that it is okay to proceed with a claim. Until we get some space, with an amnesty, we will continue to come up against the barrier of people not wanting to proceed.

Senator O'NEILL: You have called on the government for an amnesty and in the parliament I have called on the government for an amnesty. Have you had any response from the government with regard to that?

Mr Dwyer : I have had no response.

Senator O'NEILL: Neither have I. Have you had any communication from Mr Fels who, I understand, was appointed to oversee this matter on behalf of 7-Eleven head office?

Mr Dwyer : No, I have not had any response from or contact with Mr Fels, to date.

Senator O'NEILL: Have you had any feedback from the victims of this fraud, who have been communicating with you through your hotline or website, about their engagement with the 7-Eleven head office and Mr Fels?

Mr Dwyer : No, but the conversation, in terms of engagement with various bodies, needs to be given a framework, which a number of parties are working on after this hearing and across the next few days in trying to align the resources being allocated to this issue. And the motivation, I think, from all parties on that is to try and get a just settlement. But, as that continues to take shape, we will continue to reach out to the relevant authorities and continue to call on the government to take action in this space and, if it is deemed appropriate to approach Mr Fels and head office, that certainly will be done.

Senator O'NEILL: Given the scale and the numbers of people involved—many of these students have gone overseas or returned to their former homes—but there would be still many who would be in the country, and this could amount to millions of dollars that may well be on to the capacity of franchisees to pay. Do you believe that head office is responsible in this circumstance for this business model?

Mr Dwyer : I go back to my earlier response: we do not accept that you could oversee as an ultimate franchisor—the framework that we are starting to see—that system and not be aware that exploitation was taking place. Where we are now, we believe that all the pointers are that head office must have known and, therefore, we say that head office is also responsible for ensuring that 7-Eleven workers get their compensation for underpaid wages. There have been a couple of franchisees that have contacted us and we have put them in contact with lawyers. They have come forward on the basis that their business was not able to function profitably unless they breached Australian labour laws. That is certainly what they put to us through the helplines, and we have referred them to appropriate legal advice. I am told that that is not dissimilar to a range of other comments that have been made by franchisees that they were not able to operate a profitable business unless they underpaid their staff. We are not convinced that head office did not know that this kind of conduct was going on and, therefore, it bears some responsibility.

Senator O'NEILL: You spoke about the system gaps. Even if the Fair Work Ombudsman were to be considerably better resourced, that would be overcome by a structure of amnesty visas to encourage people to come forward and that that would lead to cultural change, and I think that is a very powerful suggestion. But in your submission, you have said that the culture currently is so bad that only one in 10 complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman were from migrant workers voicing concern over their treatment in the Australian labour market. Could you talk about why temporary visa holders on working holidays, international students and 457s are so vulnerable that they need a system reform, not just an instance response to this particular chain.

Mr Waseem : The reason international students and visa holders are vulnerable is simply that, when they step in, they are not clear about the standard rates and the rules or the rights that they have while they work. They merely hear it mostly from their friends or their colleagues who are already working there. Most of the workers are university students, so they only work for a couple of years at max and they hear about the rights and the rules from their friends who are doing the same thing. That makes them vulnerable to the employers. They exploit the conditions—their lack of knowledge. And when most of the students come here they find it difficult to put food on their table and pay the rent, so they have to work to meet all the expenses. That is probably the reason they are exploited—because they need some sort of job.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr Patil : Also talking about the student visas and the working holiday visas, we are aware that both of these visas have worker restrictions, so there is only a number of hours that you can work. When I came in I applied at almost every place I could work for, but most of the companies do not want to hire people who have work restrictions. That is understandable, but, at the end, the student visa holders and the working holiday visa holders are left at places like 7-Eleven, who are ready to take them, even with work restrictions.

Mr Dwyer : I took Senator O'Neill's question also to be directed partly at me. There are some things that have come out in the detail that we have—the submissions—that go to the culture. I guess what leaps off the page for us is that we have a real power imbalance, and we have tried to call that out in the submission. The power imbalance is that yes, they are small businesses, but they operate under this banner and can go back to a head office with some significant resources. But these individuals are young and therefore do not have much life experience. They are in a foreign country. They do not have the normal support networks that a lot of young native Australians would be able to go to—family or connections somewhere else—to ask advice. Figures of authority, whether an immigration officer or a union official, once they know that they have been in a situation of breach, are not people they will reach out to. They are extremely vulnerable, and they know and they are told—and this leaps out at us—that they had better not say too much, because they have breached their visa. It is made quite clear to them. That power imbalance is quite severe. It has resulted in a veil of silence sitting over this company, for a number of years. And I guess what we are seeing now is the lid being lifted on that—and not before time.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you so much for your evidence, Rahul, Nikhil and Ussama. I have some questions for you, but first I have some questions for Mr Dwyer. Just fill me in on the process. You saw the Four Corners report. You had no idea that this exploitation was going on in this particular franchise prior to seeing it on the ABC? I am unclear, given that you do have jurisdiction over these workers.

Mr Dwyer : We do have jurisdiction. There was a reference, which I think I said to Senator Rice, to a Fair Work Ombudsman issue in 7-Eleven sometime before that.

Senator McKENZIE: A long time ago.

Mr Dwyer : Yes, but, again—and that gives rise to some activity of people dropping into stores—I come back to the point that when a union reaches out, if there is no engagement from the employees, we are none the wiser unless the person actually comes to us. We can reach out to them. And I have done this myself in a 7-Eleven, in terms of filling up and handing out union literature and seeking a conversation—eyes at the ground, and that is it.

Senator McKENZIE: But I think when you see practices such as this as systemic as they seem to be over the period of time—we have heard evidence today that this has been going on since the 1990s—where was the SDA? They are very good with Woolworths and Coles—the big end of town—but where were you in this space?

Mr Dwyer : We are active in a whole lot of companies inside retail. That is what we do every day.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, with the big ones you are.

Mr Dwyer : And smaller operators. We have members in fashion stores and in smaller hardware stores, and where we get engagement—

Senator McKENZIE: But no members in 7-Eleven.

Mr Dwyer : Virtually no members in 7-Eleven.

Senator McKENZIE: I find that incredible. Anyway—

Mr Dwyer : Sorry, Senator: I think we also know now why.

Senator McKENZIE: Perhaps I could just ask you: at what point did the SDA get in contact with the Fair Work Ombudsman about its concerns for these particular retail workers?

Mr Dwyer : I have had contact with the Fair Work Ombudsman since the story broke, trying to share with them, saying, 'We've put this out there'—that is in reference to the helpline and the website—the need for both the Fair Work Ombudsman and ourselves to continue to communicate during this, because we did not know where this was going, particularly in the early days. It certainly appeared to be on a scale. I think we are all surprised now at just how large that scale is. But we will continue to work constructively with the Fair Work Ombudsman, and there are a number of others in this space that we will be working constructively with, and there are conversations, some of which have taken place and some of which are to take place, about how we get a holistic settlement of this so that the existing workers receive their proper pay. But we are also conscious of a need to change the culture in this organisation, and we say that to do that will require some intervention by government in terms of the amnesty visa, and also a change of onus: rather than our laws targeting the victims all the time, give them some space; change the onus.

Senator McKENZIE: What about the franchise code? Are you making any suggestions around changes to that?

Mr Dwyer : There were some conversations at the back end of last week in which the franchise code was raised.

Senator McKENZIE: Clearly if it is the business model that is to blame—for which there seems to be some strong evidence thus far—then we need to look at the business end?

Mr Dwyer : In the conversation I was part of, we left that on the basis that yes, that is something we ought to be looking at.

Senator McKENZIE: Excellent. In terms of your interaction with the Fair Work Ombudsman, it sounds like that is quite an iterative process at the moment. Are you happy and confident that together you will be able to assist these workers? Is the Fair Work Ombudsman operating appropriately and effectively?

Mr Dwyer : We have made comment in our submissions that the Fair Work Ombudsman is operating under some stretch with regard to resources. We do not see a long-term solution—7-Eleven or other areas—that this may lead ourselves, them, and other bodies to look at, because as we continue to talk to visa workers we seem to continue to get references to the fact that this is not the only place. We have seen a couple of other high-profile stories this year, in horticulture and in the poultry industry. We will certainly be making our position known to government about the need for something to be done on behalf of visa workers—

Senator McKENZIE: So you are saying more resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Mr Dwyer : Absolutely.

Senator McKENZIE: When the Rudd government cut resources to the Fair Work Ombudsman, was the SDA public in its request for resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman? Did you make any noise about cuts to the Fair Work Ombudsman at that time?

Mr Dwyer : I do not recall—

Senator McKENZIE: Could you take it on notice to check the union records on what advocacy the SDA had with the Rudd government when it cut the resources to the Fair Work Ombudsman, which the coalition has now reinstated?

Mr Dwyer : Yes, I could.

Senator McKENZIE: Rahul, Nikhil and Ussama: we heard from other workers this morning that they were encouraged, enticed, persuaded to breach their visa conditions as part of their work with 7-Eleven—the offer of more than their 20 hours. For the three of you, was that part of your experience in getting employed with 7-Eleven?

Mr Patil : Do you mean the whole point that being underpaid pushes you to—

Senator McKENZIE: Yes.

Mr Patil : And then living in Australia is not easy, and—

Senator McKENZIE: But was 7-Eleven being very public, making it very clear to you at the time that they were encouraging you to work more than 20 hours?

Mr Patil : During the employment I was told that I could work as much as I wanted to and it would not be a problem.

Mr Sangareddypeta : I told them clearly that I was on an international student visa and that it was legal for me to work for 20 hours. They said, 'It won't be a problem for you; we'll look after that.' I gave only two days availability—20 hours. Even then, if somebody called in sick, they would give me more than 20 hours—but very rarely.

Mr Waseem : For me it was the same story. If you look at the broader picture, the guys who are underpaid have to make ends meet, so they have to work for more than 20 hours. Some of the guys request their manager or franchisee to give them more than 20 hours, which they do encourage. They give them 20 hours plus. They use it as their own tool. Most of the franchisees say that if you perform better, work harder, then they will give you more shifts and that it would not be a problem if you worked more than 20 hours or whatever the limit is. But the standard is that if you work harder the franchisee or the manager will give you more shifts—even more than 30 hours, probably.

Senator McKENZIE: It sounds like when you came out on your student visa to study it was the conversations you had with mates or your cousins or whoever about where you would go to get a job. Back in Pakistan or India, when you were looking at universities to apply to, were there conversations such as, 'Don't worry; it's easy to get a job in Australia'—was that something that happened prior to your application? Did you have a sense that it was going to be easy to get a job?

Mr Waseem : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: And who was involved in that conversation? Were there brokers, if you like?

Mr Sangareddypeta : I came through a consultancy from India. I was told that it would not be a problem, that we would be getting jobs. He calculated how much we would be getting and how much it would be for the rent. He gave me the entire picture. I was told it was easy to find a job.

Senator McKENZIE: You were told that you would be earning double time on a Sunday, time and a half on a Saturday—

Mr Sangareddypeta : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: You were told what the minimum wage was.

Mr Sangareddypeta : He also told me that my parents would pay my fee only for the first semester, and for the rest of the semesters I would be able to pay my own fee.

Senator McKENZIE: Who was the broker?

Mr Sangareddypeta : It was Storm Consultancy. His name is Srinivas Reddy.

Mr Waseem : For me it was pretty much the same story.

Senator McKENZIE: The same broker?

Mr Waseem : No, not the same broker. It was a different consultancy firm. He said the same—that the pay rates are much higher. And it was quite a different story when I reached Australia. He also mentioned that it is very easy to get a good, nice job here. He did mention the number of hours I was obliged to do—the limit of 20 hours per week. But he mentioned that the pay rates are very good and are increasing each year, that it is pretty much a fair society here. But when I reached Australia and entered the market, practically the very next day I came across a completely different story.

Senator McKENZIE: Who was the broker you used?

Mr Waseem : It was the Australian Education Office in Pakistan.

Mr Patil : I was told, 'You will be doing your postgrad and you'll still have enough time to work part-time, and your limit is 40 hours per fortnight and you can still cover the expenses.' That is what I was told, but I was not aware of how much I would get paid or how much I would be earning. I was not told about that.

Senator McKENZIE: Did you go through a broker?

Mr Patil : Yes, I did.

Senator McKENZIE: Which broker was your broker?

Mr Patil : IDP.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you, gentlemen. I have just one last question, to the SDA. Does the SDA support the CFMEU Aussie jobs campaign?

Mr Dwyer : The trade union movement generally wants to ensure that Australians get good jobs. One of the reasons we are here today is that—

Senator McKENZIE: I know why we are here today, Mr Dwyer, as do you. My question was: does the SDA support the CFMEU's Aussie jobs campaign with respect to the ChAFTA—yes or no?

Mr Dwyer : Aussie jobs are important, and we will stand with the trade union movement generally in terms of supporting good labour standards and good jobs—and proper protections.

Senator McKENZIE: I realise the SDA stands with the labour movement generally—sometimes it does not, which is why I am asking you a very specific question about the CFMEU's 'Aussie jobs' campaign with respect to ChAFTA: does SDA support it? Yes or no?

Mr Dwyer : We support that on the basis that the labour market testing, which I understand to be the key issue, needs to be undertaken. We see that as the key issue.

Senator McKENZIE: Okay. So the SDA supports the CFMEU's Aussie jobs campaign at the moment in order to raise that issue you are talking about.

Mr Dwyer : We support the proper labour testing for any of the free trade agreements. Our understanding is that the free trade agreements that have been negotiated in recent times through various mechanisms do provide that—

Senator McKENZIE: Mr Dwyer, you have said the same answer three times and our standing orders do require you to answer it—

CHAIR: He has already answered your question, Senator McKenzie—

Senator McKENZIE: No, he has not, Senator Lines. It is not about the labour market testing required in section 10 of the ChAFTA agreement; it is actually about whether the SDA supports the CFMEU's Aussie jobs campaign that is currently running, yes or no—

CHAIR: And that campaign is about labour market testing—

Senator McKENZIE: I know what the campaign is about. I am asking SDA—

CHAIR: I think Mr Dwyer has answered the question. Answer it again, Mr Dwyer and that is the end of the matter.

Mr Dwyer : The Aussie jobs campaign is about making sure there are proper protections in place for people operating in the Australian labour market. We support fairness in the job market and—

Senator McKENZIE: No matter where you have come from. Exactly. My last question is: does the SDA support the removal of—

CHAIR: No, Senator McKenzie, I said—

Senator McKENZIE: restrictions for student visa holders?

CHAIR: that was the last question. Mr Dwyer, please do not answer the question. I indicated to Senator McKenzie—

Senator McKENZIE: Well, I will ask it on notice.

CHAIR: Fine.

Senator McKENZIE: Would the SDA support the removal of the restriction on the working hours of international students? We have heard that 20 hours is not enough—does the SDA support the removal of the 20 hours?

CHAIR: Senator Rice, you had a question?

Senator RICE: Thank you, Chair. Mr Dwyer, how many 7-Eleven employees have contacted you through your hotline and reaching out?

Senator McKENZIE: That is a good question.

Mr Dwyer : Through the telephone help line and the website, yesterday it was approaching 100. Prior to coming up this morning I noticed that there were a few more on my email, which I will forward on to branches. I think it is fair to say that we are approaching about 100 that have reached out to date.

Senator RICE: And given that we have—I do not know how many—workers right across the country, what are you then doing to encourage others to be supported?

Mr Dwyer : On the website there is actually a flyer which we have encouraged people to download and hand out in their own workplaces. We have officials across the country dropping in those flyers to workplaces as well. And through the Facebook channels we are urging people who have contacted to us to speak to friends and to get them to contact us as well.

I cannot overstate the level of fear out there. We could have had a dozen people here today—and probably did in the last two or three days—but people are very nervous. We are trying to do all that we can to make it safe and confidential for people to reach out to us, and that includes the telephone line, the website, officials physically dropping in with flyers, Facebook et cetera.

Senator PERIS: This is a question for the other witnesses here: you all spoke about your respective countries, how there is a broker person or a consultancy firm that tells you how good life is here in Australia, what your wages will be and how many hours you are actually allowed to work. We have had previous hearings where we have heard that you are told not to engage with unions when you come to this country. Was that ever—

Mr Waseem : I have not heard anything about unions from my broker. I cannot remember if I heard anything regarding the unions from my broker.

Mr Sangareddypeta : It is the same with me. I did not hear anything about the organisations or unions being there to help us. I was just told that getting the jobs is easy and making money is easy. That is what I was told.

Senator PERIS: Mr Dwyer, in your submission, you recommend whistleblower protections to be extended to temporary visa workers. Would you elaborate on that and explain why that is important.

Mr Dwyer : When we looked at this, whilst the 7-Eleven workers are predominantly on student visas, what we saw as a solution to the problem of changing the onus and trying to move the worker from being the victim and our laws targeting the victim to the laws protecting the worker was that there really needs to be something that cuts across all the visas. Whilst they are all different, there have been examples in recent times of people being coerced into breaches, be it of the 457 visa or of the holiday worker visa. To us, it looks like a solution is that, with all those visas, we need to have this amnesty visa in place so that it does not matter what visa you are working under. If you are an exploited worker—that is, you are getting wages below Australian minimums or the minimum conditions are not being observed; and these gentlemen have told me about 12-hour shifts without breaks and the like—we want a system whereby people can come forward in confidence of not suffering negative consequences of that and put their hand up and say, 'I'm in a situation of exploitation; please help,' and they would not suffer the repercussions of deportation or the like.

So we think that the solution in this cuts across all of those visas, and we think it is important for the individuals who are being exploited, but it is also important for the standard of Australian wages because this is just creating a black market out there in wages. You were asking questions about Mr Waseem's wage rate. In some information that was supplied about hours worked in a particular week and money paid, at one point his hourly rate was $6.85. He has made reference to $11 and $12, and that information is certainly here, but there are sevens, there are eights and there are also sixes.

CHAIR: Is that a payslip?

Mr Dwyer : No, it is not a payslip; it is just work that we have done with some records that he has loaded—

CHAIR: Just working out the hours?

Mr Dwyer : Yes.

CHAIR: And you are going to look at taping that?

Mr Dwyer : Yes, we will have a look at it. I have made a note of it.

CHAIR: We can redact it or you can redact it.

Senator PERIS: I have a question for all three workers here. Were you ever given a job description or told exactly what you will do in some sort of contract form?

Mr Waseem : Yes, we did sign a contract sort of thing, but it did not have any job description. Most of the duties were transmitted verbally or practically by showing how it happens. For example, with refilling and doing other chores, it was mostly transmitted verbally—'You have to do this in this manner.' But there was not any contract that mentioned the job responsibilities.

Mr Sangareddypeta : After one week of training after confirming the job, they asked us to fill in the form with the date commencing the job, and also they asked us to do the online training which showed everything about the job rules and description. That is pretty much what the job description was.

Senator PERIS: Was the job description very different to what you had to do?

Mr Sangareddypeta : It was similar. It was not different to what we were doing.

Mr Patil : I was basically not given any job description as such. For that matter, I did not know whether I was part time, full time or casual, but I was always treated as a casual, because I was called in at any time. But for a job description I was not given anything. I was just doing what I was told during a shift.

Senator PERIS: And that was just verbal?

Mr Patil : Yes.

CHAIR: Mr Dwyer, how long have you been a union official?

Mr Dwyer : For over 20 years.

CHAIR: And in your experience, on a scale of one to 10, where does this exploitation at 7-Eleven sit?

Mr Dwyer : With 10 being the worst—


Mr Dwyer : This is the worst thing I have seen on this scale.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for coming today to give your evidence. We do offer our sincere apologies that you have treated so badly in the Australian labour market. That should not have happened. You are entitled to at least double what you have been receiving in terms of wages. We hope that in whatever jobs you do next, if you do jobs, you get paid the proper pay and the proper entitlements. We hope that you are able to get back pay through the union and that that is a quick process. Thank you very much for your attendance here today. Thanks very much, Mr Dwyer.

Mr Patil : There is just something I want to add at the end. Australia is making so much effort going to other countries, like India, China and all the other countries. I have seen universities flying across every three months in India and in almost every city, making efforts to advertise as much as possible and telling people what standard they offer and what kind of education facilities you have. That gives a totally different picture to the students back home and to whoever is planning to come here. When you come here and you end up exploited, that is not what you have come here for. It really loses the purpose of what Australia is doing—putting in so much money and effort to advertise about the education.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for coming along today.