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United Petroleum accused of wage abuse after Four Corners expose -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The national petrol station chain United Petroleum is facing allegations of widespread wage abuse amongst its hundreds of sites

It follows the Four Corners investigation, revealing many 7-Eleven shops and petrol stations are paying employees as little as $10 an hour

Franchisees have told the ABC they believe that's also happening at United Petroleum and allege head office knows about it - a claim the company strenuously denies

Consumer affairs reporter Josie Taylor has this exclusive report.

JOSIE TAYLOR: United Petroleum has hundreds of petrol stations around the country. On its website, a franchisee spruiks the business to prospective buyers.

EXTRACT FROM VIDEO ON UNITED PETROLEUM WEBSITE: To anybody who wants to become a franchisee for United, I would tell them, go with United and you won't be wrong.

JOSIE TAYLOR: But some franchisees past and present have told the ABC they've struggled to make a profit while running their often 24 hour sites, even while significantly underpaying employees.

Most United franchisees spend nearly half a million dollars to run a petrol station, and pay United about 15 per cent of their daily profits.

One franchisee admitted to the ABC he did not pay the award wage and believes that is wide spread.

The man admits to paying staff $15 dollars an hour rather than the award of about $24 but he says many sites are paying just $10-$12 per hour.

According to another franchisee:

UNITED PETROLEUM FRANCHISEE (Spoken by actor): The business model did not allow us to pay the required full award and penalty rates for staff.

JOSIE TAYLOR: The ABC has obtained an email from a third franchisee sent two years ago, telling two senior United managers:

UNITED PETROLEUM FRANCHISEE 2 (Spoken by actor): I really want to be able to afford and start paying award rates but the financial compulsions are something I do not have control over. I believe everyone else in the network must be in same position.

JOSIE TAYLOR: This man is a former United Petroleum franchisee.

FORMER UNITED PETROLEUM FRANCHISEE: It's not a business model, It's a business model which makes money for them.

JOSIE TAYLOR: The former franchisee says he did pay the award wage to his employees and as a result his business was never profitable.

FORMER UNITED PETROLEUM FRANCHISEE: It isn't workable. If you do the costing, it's not workable. You've got to either slog yourself 24 hours in there or if you put someone, it's not workable.

JOSIE TAYLOR: In a statement United Petroleum totally rejected the allegations and says if a franchisee is underpaying staff, they're in breach of their franchise agreement.

Regarding the email sent to two managers, United said it did not know who the ABC was referring to and it was not possible to investigate the existence of such an email.

United says the payment of wages and entitlements is a matter for franchisees and it has no involvement.

The company says if a franchisee has financial difficulty United will assist with support and advice, and it has never had a business go broke.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And that's Josie Taylor with that report.