Workplace Express: FWO investigating 7-Eleven stores

The Fair Work Ombudsman is continuing to investigate 7-Eleven convenience stores in Victoria after finding more than a third of 56 stores it audited had breached workplace laws.

Following a self-audit process rolled out with the co-operation of 7-Eleven’s corporate headquarters, the FWO between September 2009 and February 2010 audited the time and wage keeping records, pay slip details, and wage payments of 56 franchisees in Melbourne and Geelong.

The audits uncovered a total of 24 breaches across 17 businesses, including 10 failures to pay weekend penalty rates and 7 instances of underpayment, resulting in the recovery of $32,378 in wages recovered for 62 employees.

However, unregistered retail and fast food union Unite says the feedback it has received from 7-Eleven employees suggests the audits may only have scratched the surface.

Secretary Anthony Main says the union has received a number of reports from employees claiming that in some cases franchisees fail to properly record hours worked or wages paid in their books.

The FWO’s audits would only uncover such conduct if they examined cash-register logins employees make that record their hours worked and compare them to the employer’s books – something Main says is not part of the FWO’s standard methodology.

“These breaches they have found are only what you see on the books – they don’t show hours they work kept off the books and an audit simply won’t address that, you need to dig deeper to find where the bodies are buried,” he says.

The FWO through a spokesperson said it “is aware of the concerns raised by Unite and is currently conducting further investigations of 7-Eleven stores. As this investigation is ongoing it is not appropriate to comment further at this time. The Fair Work Ombudsman intends to conduct education and compliance campaigns in the 24 hour convenience store sector in the future.”

The watchdog is already prosecuting the former operator of two stores, Bosen Pty Ltd, for $85,508 in underpayments that it alleges occurred after the employer “listed the workers’ pay rates at double what they were actually paid – and recorded half the number of hours they actually worked – to make it appear the employees were being paid correctly”.