THE former operators of two 7-Eleven stores in Victoria have been fined a total of $150,000 and ordered to backpay $90,000 in wages after deliberately exploiting six international students.
The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court imposed the penalty after Fair Work inspectors acted on complaints from employees.
The six international students – all from India and Zimbabwe – were underpaid amounts ranging from $1342 to $40,583 accrued over a period of five years from 2005 to 2009.
Through their company Bosen, Toorak couple Hao Cheng and Xue Jing formerly owned and operated the 7-Eleven stores on Park St, South Yarra and Moorabool St, Geelong.
The students, some as young as 18, were paid flat rates of between $9 and $12 an hour when they were entitled to receive more than double those rates for many of the shifts they worked, including weekends, night and public holiday work.
The workers were also not paid annual leave entitlements and some were unlawfully required to do periods of unpaid “training” before starting paid employment.
Magistrate Kate Hawkins said the “training period” equated to several weeks of free labour in most instances.
She found Cheng and Jing had lied to the 7-Eleven head office about hours the six students worked and the rates they were paid – and that written store records were “deliberately thrown out”.
Magistrate Hawkins found Jing was also involved in the underpayments of two of the students.
“The conduct was a systematic and significant exploitation of highly vulnerable workers,” she said.
“The exploitation affected young international students, four teenagers at the time, who had only recently arrived in Australia.
“This was a deliberate and calculated campaign to pay the employees less than what they were legally entitled to and to obtain free labour and therefore a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
Magistrate Hawkins said there was a need to set a penalty that served as a warning to the community at large and small business owners especially, that the correct entitlements for employees had to be paid.
Fair Work Ombudsman Executive Director Michael Campbell said the community would not tolerate deliberate exploitation.
“International students and other foreign workers can be vulnerable because they are often not fully aware of their workplace rights in Australia, so we take instances of exploitation very seriously,” he said.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has recently conducted a series of auditing campaigns in industries employing significant numbers of foreign workers, including horticulture, hospitality, cleaning and retail.
Last year, the Fair Work Ombudsman audited 56 7-Eleven stores throughout Melbourne and Geelong and recovered $32,300 for 62 underpaid workers.
The Fair Work Ombudsman devotes considerable resources to educating international students and foreign workers about their workplace rights. Information translated into more than 20 languages is available at www.fairwork.gov.au. The website also includes a page with resources tailored specifically for international students.
Employers or employees seeking assistance should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.